Leaks loom over W.H. war strategy

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The White House is dismissing the 92,000 Afghan war reports posted by WikiLeaks as old news — but the document dump poses a potent new threat to President Barack Obama’s delicately balanced Afghanistan policy.

The field reports — raw, classified documents that portray Pakistani officials as double agents, working with both the United States and the Taliban — have rekindled long-standing doubts about the reliability of America’s most important strategic partner in the region.

As important, the reports are prompting a new wave of scrutiny of the war among Obama’s allies on Capitol Hill — with Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry saying Monday they might initiate new “calibrations” of U.S. strategy in an unpopular and bloody war.

That’s bad news for Obama, who needs time, patience and congressional elasticity if his new commander, Gen. David Petraeus, is to have any chance of implementing his Afghanistan surge strategy before the planned start of troop withdrawals next summer.

“Whether WikiLeaks uncovered anything new isn’t actually important — it’s on the front page of every newspaper in the country; the media is now focused on Afghanistan, and that makes it a big deal,” said Daniel Markey, a senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations and an expert on India and Pakistan.

“The public is now more skeptical about the administration’s strategy in Afghanistan than they were last week, and that makes it real,” said Markey, who was a South Asia analyst during the Bush administration.

Added one Senate aide: “Anyone who’s been paying even the vaguest attention to this issue found nothing new in this thing, but there’s also no doubt that this ratchets up the level of anxiety in the Democratic Caucus.”

That’s because the documents — a sort of six-year ground-level diary of the war — by and large offer a bleaker picture of the situation in Afghanistan than does the White House. Aside from the ongoing tension with Pakistan, the reports reveal a stronger-than-expected Taliban that now has access to surface-to-air missiles, the weapons insurgents used to drive out the Soviets in the 1980s.

On Monday, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs dismissed the reports, saying they represent a disjointed series of snapshots of the war effort from 2004 to 2009 — before Obama announced his new strategy that relies on increased deployments and an attempt to stand up Afghan civilian and military authorities.

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