Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he was "mortified" and "appalled" by the recent leak of more than 75,000 secret war documents, blaming WikiLeaks — the site that published the documents — for its role in endangering U.S. troops and allies of the war effort on the ground.

"There's a moral culpability," he said. "And that's where I think the verdict is guilty on WikiLeaks."

Some of the documents list the names and villages of military informants, leaving those informants vulnerable to retaliatory violence. On Thursday, a representative of the Taliban told a British television station said that the group would be "studying the report." 

"If they [individuals listed in the documents] are U.S. spies, then we know how to punish them," the spokesman said.

Explaining how the leak came about, Gates described how the Defense Department had "put an enormous amount of information out at the secret level" and pushed it "the furthest forward" into the field as possible.

He said that military leadership would be looking for ways to mitigate the risks of further leaks without depriving soldiers of necessary intelligence.

"I want those kids out there to have all the information they can have," Gates said.

On the substance of the leak, Gates aimed to clarify several points, saying that he doesn't think the Taliban have Stinger missiles and that the revelation about a connection between the group and Pakistani intelligence needs more explanation.

"It is a concern; there's no question about that," he said, explaining that Pakistan has maintained relationships with militant groups as a "hedge" in case of an abrupt U.S. exit from the region.

With the anticipated troop drawdown less than a year away, Gates re-emphasized that "we are not leaving Afghanistan in July of 2011" and that "the pace will depend on conditions on the ground." 

He corroborated a recent assessment made by Vice President Joe Biden — and contrary to the hopes of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — that the drawdown would be "as few as a couple thousand troops."

"Drawdowns early on will be of fairly limited numbers," he said.