White House warns 'collusion' leaks put Pakistan aid at risk
Published 27/07/2010 | 05:00
THE White House warned last night that billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan could be at risk if leaked intelligence reports prove that its security forces are colluding with the Taliban.
President Obama's spokes- man ruled out a "blank cheque" to Islamabad as the Pentagon launched an investigation to hunt down the source of the biggest intelligence leak in US history.
Teams of analysts in the US and Pakistan were assigned to comb the 92,000 documents released by the WikiLeaks website, looking for potential risks to coalition forces, and for clues about who released them.
Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, appeared at a London press conference claiming that the papers contained evidence of war crimes by US death squads.
"On the face of it, there does appear to be evidence of war crimes in this material."
US experts said that the leaks could jeopardise Britain's intelligence-sharing relationship with Washington. The single most damaging theme from the "war logs" -- their detailed claims of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency helping the Taliban -- was met head-on by Robert Gibbs, the White House spokesman.
He repeated a statement first made by Mr Obama last year that the US "will not and cannot provide a blank cheque" to Pakistan if it fails to rein in extremists.
The documents contain allegations of ISI involvement in plots to assassinate President Karzai of Afghanistan, to supply children and motorcycles for suicide bombings in Afghan- istan, and even to poison allied troops' beer. Some analysts warned, however, that much of the intelligence was of questionable value.
General Hamid Gul, a former ISI director frequently mentioned in the documents, told 'The Times' that "the report of my physical involvement with al-Qa'ida or Taliban in planning attacks on American forces" was "completely baseless".
The sheer volume of files means that Washington's relations with a vital, but unreliable, ally are under scrutiny less than a week after Hillary Clinton pledged $7.5bn in aid to Islamabad.
Washington and its allies closed ranks to limit the damage to a war effort that a growing number of US voters and senior Democrats fear may be unravelling even as the White House prepares for a review that will decide if troops can start to withdraw next year.
The security breach hit Washington in the deadliest month of the nine-year Afghan war, with 100 coalition casualties so far, and 45 Afghan civilians reported dead in a rocket attack yesterday in Helmand province.
William Hague, Britain's Foreign Secretary, said he hoped that the leaks would not "poison" the progress that he said had been achieved in Kabul.
The leaks may not match the Pentagon Papers, which discredited US policy in Vietnam, "but they are so significant in their magnitude and scope that arguments about their content are almost secondary," Rick Nelson, of the Centre for International and Strategic Studies, said. "This may affect intelligence-sharing with the UK. No matter which way you look at it, it's going to raise suspicions on both sides." (© The Times, London)