Ted Kaufman - United States Senator for Delaware

Obama seeks to control damage from Afghan war leak

Source: Reuters

By Matt Spetalnick

July 28, 2010

President Barack Obama sought on Tuesday to limit damage from a huge leak of documents on the war in Afghanistan, saying he was concerned about the disclosure but it revealed little that was not already known.

Defending his strategy for the unpopular war, Obama said the leak of some 91,000 classified reports underscored the need to stick to his approach and he urged lawmakers to approve $37 billion in funds for the war effort.

Congress obliged later in the day as the House of Representatives took the final action to approve the money -- $33 billion for the military and $4 billion for a related civilian surge -- months after the president requested it.

The tally was 308-114 but most of the "no" votes came from Obama's own Democrats.

"While I'm concerned about the disclosure of sensitive information from the battlefield that could potentially jeopardize individuals or operations, the fact is these documents don't reveal any issues that haven't already informed our public debate on Afghanistan," Obama told reporters in his first public comments on the matter.

His administration has scrambled in response to the leak of military records that painted a grim picture of the U.S.-led war and revived doubts about key ally Pakistan.

The release was expected to fuel uncertainty in Congress at a critical juncture as Obama sends 30,000 more soldiers into battle in a bid to break the Taliban insurgency.

The documents, made public by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, detail allegations that U.S. forces sought to cover up civilian deaths as well as U.S. concern that Pakistan secretly aided Taliban militants even as it took billions of dollars in U.S. aid.

The documents, a collection of field intelligence and threat reports from before Obama ordered the troop surge in December, illustrated the Pentagon's bleak assessment of the war amid deteriorating security and a Taliban resurgence.

"NOT NEW ALLEGATIONS"

Speaking after a White House meeting with a bipartisan group of congressional leaders, Obama said the leaked reports "point to the same challenges that led me to conduct an extensive review of our policy last fall."

"For seven years, we failed to implement a strategy adequate to the challenge in this region, the region from which the 9/11 attacks were waged and other attacks against the United States and our friends and allies have been planned," Obama said.

"That's why we've substantially increased our commitment there, insisted on greater accountability from our partners in Afghanistan and Pakistan, developed a new strategy that can work and put in place a team, including one of our finest generals, to execute that plan."

U.S. officials said the leaked information was uncorroborated and outdated and they stressed that U.S. ties with Pakistan and Afghanistan were on a "positive trajectory."

But some analysts said the revelations could be damaging as the White House seeks to shore up sagging public support for the war while setting the stage to start withdrawing U.S. troops by Obama's target date of July 2011.

"It is important not to overhype or get excessively excited about the meaning of those documents," John Kerry, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told a hearing on Afghanistan.

But he said the most disturbing aspect were allegations of ties between extremists and Pakistan's intelligence agency.

"These are not new allegations," Kerry said. "We have been wrestling with these allegations and we have made some progress."

Senator Ted KAUFMAN of Delaware, also a Democrat, and several other lawmakers voiced frustration over the pace of progress in Afghanistan, particularly from the government of President Hamid Karzai.

"I am not spending one more dollar or one more American life until we have a conviction that we can get governance that is good enough," KAUFMAN said.

The Pentagon is seeking to identify the source of the leak. Defense officials have not named any suspects but have refused to rule out the potential involvement of an Army specialist already awaiting trial on charges of leaking information related to the Iraq war to WikiLeaks.

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