Analyst: Leak Fuels Debate About Winnable War

The release of 91,000 documents pertaining to the U.S.-NATO war effort in Afghanistan by the website WikiLeaks does not contain much that is new in terms of information, but the timing of the leak suggests an agenda to affect the debate about remaining in Afghanistan, one security expert said.

The cache of documents, released Sunday, is one of the largest unauthorized disclosures in military history. Covering a period from January 2004 to December 2009, they contain reports about civilian deaths, special forces and intelligence operations against militants, and cooperation between members of Pakistani intelligence and elements of the Taliban.

CBS News national security analyst Juan Zarate said today that the release could be damaging to the allied war effort in part because of its timing.

"There's a lot of angst and anxiety about where we're going with our Afghan strategy, questions as to what's going to happen in a year's time when we're set to begin withdrawal of our troops, and certainly ongoing debate in Europe about their role and the role of European troops in Afghanistan," Zarate said on CBS' "The Early Show." "So, this set of raw reports will add flavor and certainly fuel to the fire of the debate as to whether or not it's winnable in Afghanistan."

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Zarate said he was not surprised by the information in the documents, which were released simultaneously by Wikileaks, The New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel.

"I was surprised by the volume, to be honest, but the substance frankly is not new," Zarate told anchor Erica Hill. "For those who have been following the debate about Afghanistan for a long time, those like myself who have worked on the issues, it's not new.

"The fact that the Taliban has been gaining in strength, the fact that we've got teams hunting Taliban and al Qaeda leadership. I think we all know that and expect it. Civilian casualties have been a problem, certainly, and the weakness of some of our partners, the Afghan national police and the corruption there, as well as suspicions about Pakistani intelligence working with the Taliban. All of this has been known, certainly part of the public discourse.

"But what this does is it certainly gives a rawness to it given the reports and will feed the debate," he said.

The release was condemned by the White House, which stated that the release could "put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk."

Special Section: Afghanistan

WikiLeak's founder, Julian Assange, said that the selection of what material was released was made with care so as not to "put innocents at harm."

"It's clear to me that [Assange] has an agenda, he's trying to affect the debate," said Zarate. "He obviously believes in transparency. He also talks about curing injustices.

"He certainly has some sort of agenda here. Recall that , and it seems like WikiLeaks is trying to fuel the debate here and perhaps trying to fuel the debate to get out of Afghanistan."

Zarate said it is not clear who may have been the source the leak:

"The military has arrested a private a few weeks ago who is . It's not clear if he is the source of these documents.

"But what's troubling is not only does Wikileaks have these documents, they may have additional documents - they've signaled that they may have diplomatic cables and other documents sensitive to the U.S. internal government.

"We'll have to see and, unfortunately, hold our breath."

For more info:
No Secrets: How WikiLeaks Leaked the Apache Combat Video (The New Yorker)