While enroute from Afghanistan to Iraq Tuesday, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said he is "appalled" about the release of tens of thousands of Afghan war documents that have been posted on the Internet on the Wikileaks website. He also told reporters on his aircraft that he is concerned the public release of raw intelligence could jeopardize troops operating in Afghanistan.
"I think sometimes people don't appreciate what kind of information could be out there that makes their job a lot more difficult and, in fact, could jeopardize their lives," said Mullen.
He emphasized the U.S. military will do everything possible to ensure there are not leaks like this one in the future.
Even before the documents were published, Mullen had expressed concern about some of what they allege, particularly the alleged support for some insurgent groups, including the Haqqani network, by Pakistan's intelligence service, the ISI.
"We are very focused on that network because it's doing so much damage to our efforts in Afghanistan," Mullen said. "And to the degree that anybody in Pakistan, military or ISI, is connected to that, that's unsatisfactory. That's unacceptable."
One key aspect of the U.S. strategy for Afghanistan is to improve relations with Pakistan so that officials there will crack down on al-Qaida and related groups operating in the western part of the country, and infiltrating into Afghanistan. Admiral Mullen is a key player in that effort, and he visited Pakistan just this past weekend, his 19th visit in the two-and-a-half years he has been in office.
He took an aerial tour and had a long dinner Saturday with Pakistan's powerful military chief, General Ashfaq Kiyani, who was director of the ISI during part of the period depicted in the released documents. Admiral Mullen said the message to Pakistan has been very clear.
"These are concerns that have been raised and discussed extensively over the period of the last several years in my relationship with him," said Mullen. "He fully understands my concerns, the United States government's concerns."
The admiral repeated that the ISI "must strategically change its direction," but he could not say how much that has happened in spite of his efforts and those of other senior U.S. officials.
"I'm not really prepared to tell you that given that information how far we've moved off it, or how far we've moved forward. I certainly know that over the last couple of years we've moved dramatically forward in our relationship with Pakistan," said Mullen.
In spite of the improvements, Mullen described the U.S.-Pakistan relationship "not unchallenging."
At the same time, the admiral says the raw intelligence reports published by the Wikileaks website need to be put in context. He notes they are raw, unconfirmed reports from various sources. He said his staff is working through the more than 90,000 documents to determine whether there is anything new and whether the information gathered between 2003 and 2009 turned out to be valid.
But he said overall, the issues raised in the documents are not new, and were considered by senior U.S. officials when they developed the new strategy for Afghanistan last year.
"Certainly at my level each area is an area that we considered in developing the new strategy and that we've addressed as we've moved on from that review last year to where we are now," said Mullen.
In spite of the concerns about support for insurgents, the admiral said he does not believe Pakistani leaders have misled the United States. U.S. officials are concerned that without the improved relations, including military sales and $12 billion of aid over the coming five years, Pakistan will not expand its campaign against insurgents to areas where groups that attack U.S. forces in Afghanistan operate.