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US Military Officials Condemn Leaks of Afghan War Documents

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Michael Bowman

America's top military officials are condemning last week's public dissemination of thousands of secret U.S. military documents on the war in Afghanistan, but insist the nine-year effort to root out insurgents and terrorists is not a lost cause.  

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates had this response when asked how he feels about Internet site Wikileaks' publication of classified documents on the Afghan war.

"Mortified. ppalled. nd if I am angry, it is because I believe this information puts those in Afghanistan who have helped us at risk," Gates said. "It puts our soldiers at risk."

Gates was speaking on ABC's This Week program.  His comments echoed those of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, who has said that Wikileaks and its source could have the blood of a U.S. soldier or an Afghan family on their hands.  

U.S. officials believe the Taliban is searching the documents for names of people who have cooperated with multinational forces in the country.

Speaking on NBC's Meet the Press program, Mullen downplayed the significance of documents alleging a connection between Pakistan's intelligence apparatus and Taliban forces in Afghanistan.

"That there are elements of the Pakistani intelligence agency that are connected, or have had relationships with extremists is certainly known, and that has to change," Mullen said.

The admiral had a similar response to assessments in the leaked documents that the Taliban's strength has grown in recent years.  Mullen said the United States recognizes the challenges U.S. forces must overcome in Afghanistan, adding that he believes America's strategy can succeed.

Indications of growing Taliban strength come amid a rise in U.S. casualties in Afghanistan.  July was the deadliest month for American forces in the nine-year war.  The indications also occur as the United States prepares for an eventual draw-down of forces in the country.

But Defense Secretary Gates says no one, especially the Taliban, should assume American forces will disappear overnight.

"We are not leaving Afghanistan in July of 2011," Gates said. "We are beginning a transition process and a thinning of our ranks.  And the pace will depend on the conditions on the ground.  The president has been very clear about that.  And if the Taliban are waiting for the 19th month [the end of the surge in U.S. forces], I welcome that.  Because we will be there in the 19th month, and we will be there with a lot of troops."

Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives approved $37-billion in new funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Public-opinion surveys in the United States show declining support for the Afghan war effort and growing pessimism about the chances for success in eradicating terrorists and extremists.

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