07.26.10

Taliban Responds to WikiLeaks

A high-ranking Taliban commander reacts to the release of classified military documents, and denies any links with Pakistan’s spy network. Mushtaq Yusufzai reports.

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Responding to WikiLeaks' release of tens of thousands of pages of classified military documents about the war in Afghanistan, a high-ranking Taliban commander rejected reports that the Taliban had any links with Pakistan’s spy agency.

“Look, we’re at war and would like to get aid from anyone to fight against the U.S. and its allies who invaded our homeland,” Sirajuddin Haqqani, a senior leader of the Haqqani network, told The Daily Beast on Monday, denying any existing links with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence, known by its acronym ISI.

According to The New York Times, the leaked military reports suggest that Pakistan—a country at least nominally a U.S. ally and the recipient of more than $1 billion a year in U.S. aid—has been collaborating indirectly or directly with the Taliban and its affiliates in Afghanistan.

While Haqqani said the leaked reports were useful to him, he also said he wished they had been leaked earlier because they provided evidence of American brutality in Afghanistan.

U.S. officials have recently made more forceful suggestions that a link exists between the ISI and terrorist groups—as noted in a report by the Council on Foreign Relations

For example, in an interview with CBS’ 60 Minutes last year, Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates suggested that ISI has links with the Afghan Taliban for strategic reasons and that “to a certain extent, they play both sides.”

Four years ago, a leaked ministry of defense think-tank paper in Britain suggested that “indirectly, Pakistan [through the ISI] has been supporting terrorism and extremism.”

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Haqqani, who spoke by phone from an undisclosed location, is the oldest son of veteran Afghan Taliban leader Maulvi Jalaluddin Haqqani, the leader of the Haqqani network, a violent Taliban faction that U.S. officials allege is operating both in Kabul and the Pakistani province of Waziristan. The younger Haqqani has a $5 million bounty on his head.

The commander said the group had learned about the leaked documents through the media.

Julian Assange, founder of the website WikiLeaks.org, leaked more than 90,000 secret military reports detailing more than six years of the war effort to The New York Times, the British newspaper The Guardian and the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel.

In an earlier interview with The Daily Beast, Haqqani said that he doesn’t carry a radio or any other kind of electronic equipment for fear of surveillance and assassination. Underlings tasked with monitoring the media instead convey to him what’s in the news. “We have a… media section whose job it is to monitor national and international media outlets,” he told The Daily Beast after the ouster of Gen. Stanley McChrystal last month.

While Haqqani said the leaked reports were useful to him, he also said he wished they had been leaked earlier because they provided evidence of American brutality in Afghanistan.

“This is just 30 percent of the atrocities which the U.S. and NATO forces have done to the Afghan people during their nine years of occupation,” he said. “Some people who were strong supporters [of the U.S.] were disappointed by their cruelties… They never admit their mistakes or regret the loss of innocent lives in bombings.” Such bombings, he said, brought civilians “into Taliban camps.”

On Monday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai claimed that a NATO bombing had killed 52 civilians —a charge vehemently denied by the U.S. military and NATO officials.

One high-ranking U.S. military officer stationed in Afghanistan speculated that Karzai’s claim was just a way to test the mettle of newly installed Gen. David Petraeus, pointing out that the Afghan president in the past had made similar statements to test his predecessor, Gen. McChrystal.

The officer also said he felt “betrayed and angry” by the leaked documents, reserving special criticism for the alleged WikiLeaks whistleblower, Pfc. Bradley Manning, the 22-year-old Army intelligence analyst charged this month with leaking classified information.

“I do think he should go to jail,” the officer said, but added: “The release of the documents has made it painfully clear that it’s a bleaker picture,” than what has been reported previously.

Mushtaq Yusufzai is a Peshawar-based journalist who covers the war on terror for The News International, one of Pakistan's largest newspapers. He has worked for ABC News and NBC. He is the winner of the Kate Webb Award and a graduate of the U.N. Dag Hammarskjöld Journalism Fellowship program.