THE US has vowed to prosecute those behind the leak of documents on the Afghan war, which it says pose “dangerous” risks for Americans in battle.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said the Pentagon will “aggressively investigate” the leak and asked the Federal Bureau of Investigation to help in the probe.
The leak of 92,000 classified documents by the website WikiLeaks contained no surprises and did not call into question the US strategy in the Afghan war, Mr Gates and the US military’s top officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, told a press conference.
Mr Gates, however, said “the battlefield consequences of the release of these documents are potentially severe and dangerous for our troops, our allies and Afghan partners, and may well damage our relationships and reputation in that key part of the world”.
The leak exposed sources and methods for US intelligence agencies and allowed US adversaries to learn about military tactics and procedures, said Mr Gates, clearly angry over the episode.
The Defence Secretary promised a thorough probe to find out how the “massive breach” occurred, to identify who was responsible, and to assess what information was compromised.
He declined to comment on a Wall Street Journal report that authorities had evidence linking an army soldier, already accused of leaking a classified video from Iraq, to the leaked Afghan war documents.
Private First Class Bradley Manning was charged earlier this month with illegally releasing a video of a helicopter attack as well as State Department documents.
The military will take additional steps to protect classified information and to safeguard the lives of US service members as well as Afghans possibly endangered by the leaks, Mr Gates said.
The founder of the Wikileaks website, Julian Assange, has defended the release of the files, saying he hoped it would spark a debate about the war and that his site had checked for named informants before distributing the papers.
But Admiral Mullen said there were better ways to question the war and that Mr Assange may have blood on his hands.
“Mr Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing, but the truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family,” he said.
The unprecedented leak jeopardised the trust vital to gathering intelligence in the field, said Mr Gates, a former CIA director.
“We have considerable repair work to do,” to fix relationships damaged by the leak, he said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has condemned the release of the documents, saying it could endanger the lives of Afghans cooperating with the US-led force.