Key points from classified Pentagon documents

Still image taken from video shows FBI agents arresting Jack Teixeira outside a residence in North Dighton, Massachusetts [WCVB-TV via ABC via Reuters]

The leak of classified Pentagon documents, also known as the Pentagon Papers Leak, has caused a stir as a trove of highly sensitive US government documents has been circulating online. 

These documents include secret assessments of the Ukraine conflict as well as reports that point to surveillance of close American allies. 

The US government officials have not publicly confirmed the authenticity of the materials shown in photographs posted on social media and other sites. Nevertheless, their potential impact on national security is serious enough that the Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into the matter. 

According to documents reviewed by AFP, one of the documents provides an assessment of the Ukraine conflict as of March 1, putting Russian combat deaths between 35,500 and 43,500, while Ukraine’s are at 16,000 to 17,500. 

Moreover, Russia lost more than 150 planes and helicopters, while Ukraine lost more than 90 aircraft. Another version of the document, which was apparently digitally modified, claimed Ukrainian losses of troops and equipment were higher than Russia’s. However, the Pentagon has warned that these documents have the potential to spread disinformation.

Two documents dated February 28 highlight significant issues with Ukrainian air defenses, which have been instrumental in protecting against Russian strikes and preventing Moscow’s forces from gaining control of the skies. 

The documents state that Ukraine’s ability to provide medium-range air defenses to protect the front line will be completely reduced by May 23. One of the documents notes that SA-10 and SA-11 Soviet-era systems make up nearly 90 percent of Ukrainian medium- and high-range protection, and says that — based on munitions use at the time — they were projected to run out of missiles by early May and late March, respectively. 

The document lists possible responses including resupplying Ukraine with munitions from allies and partners in the near term, and seeking contributions of Western air defense systems in the midterm. Many of these Western systems have already been promised.

Another document suggests that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, on February 28, expressed concern to the country’s top general and another official about Kyiv’s lack of missiles with the range to hit Moscow’s forces inside Russia. 

The document suggests using drones to carry out strikes. The account indicates American surveillance of a close partner and may help explain US reluctance to provide Ukraine with the longer-range weapons it has sought, as Washington tries to avoid its arms being used inside Russia. Nonetheless, Kyiv appears to have carried out such strikes with other means, and Washington’s hesitation predates the exchange mentioned in the document.

Another undated document shows leaders from Israel’s Mossad backing officials from the intelligence service and private citizens to protest against a controversial judicial reform plan that would give lawmakers considerably more authority over the Supreme Court. The document says the information was gained by intercepting electronic signals, indicating US spying on a country with which it has close ties.

The South Korean National Security Council was concerned that the United States would give Ukraine ammunition it was seeking from Seoul, according to a document detailing March 1 communications between two Korean officials. 

That would have violated South Korea’s policy of not providing lethal aid to Ukraine, whose forces have faced a critical shortage of artillery ammunition. This document, like previous ones, points to American surveillance of an ally. 

The revelation sparked criticism in South Korea about the vulnerability of sensitive locations, but President Yoon Suk Yeol’s office has pushed back, saying it had iron-clad security, and that allegations of eavesdropping were senseless lies. The country’s opposition on Wednesday urged the government to investigate the apparent espionage.

Finally, a document dated February 27 details surveillance flights over the Black Sea by the United States, Britain, France, and NATO from late September to late February, using both crewed aircraft and drones, including the MQ-9 Reaper. 

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