On December 9th, the Washington Post published an article based on a “trove of US government documents” that prove that US officials, for 18 years, “failed to tell the truth” of the unwinnable war in Afghanistan.
“The documents were generated by a federal project examining the root failures of the longest armed conflict in U.S. history. They include more than 2,000 pages of previously unpublished notes of interviews with people who played a direct role in the war, from generals and diplomats to aid workers and Afghan officials.”
The Washington Post won a three-year legal battle under the Freedom of Information Act to be able to reveal the identities of those who criticized the war in Afghanistan.
More than 400 insiders “offered unrestrained criticism of what went wrong in Afghanistan and how the United States became mired in nearly two decades of warfare.”
“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015. He added: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”
“If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction . . . 2,400 lives lost,” Lute added, blaming the deaths of U.S. military personnel on bureaucratic breakdowns among Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department. “Who will say this was in vain?”
Since 2001, 775,000 US troops had been deployed to the US, many repeatedly, out of them 2,301 have died and 20,589 were wounded, according to official Pentagon numbers.
Most of the insiders were speaking with the notion that what they were saying would never be public, thus they outlined how the strategy was flawed, and how enormous sums of money were wasted into “trying to remake Afghanistan into a modern nation.”
Since 2001, the Defense Department, State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development have spent or appropriated between $934 billion and $978 billion, according to an inflation-adjusted estimate calculated by Neta Crawford, a political science professor and co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University.
Sums spent by CIA, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, and other agencies aren’t included.
“What did we get for this $1 trillion effort? Was it worth $1 trillion?” Jeffrey Eggers, a retired Navy SEAL and White House staffer for Bush and Obama, told government interviewers. He added, “After the killing of Osama bin Laden, I said that Osama was probably laughing in his watery grave considering how much we have spent on Afghanistan.”
Many of those interviewed described explicit and continuous efforts by the US government to misrepresent what was going on in Afghanistan with the sole aim of misleading the public.
“Every data point was altered to present the best picture possible,” Bob Crowley, an Army colonel who served as a senior counterinsurgency adviser to U.S. military commanders in 2013 and 2014, told government interviewers. “Surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced that everything we were doing was right and we became a self-licking ice cream cone.”
Furthermore, it appeared that the “reconstruction attempt” was not tailored to the situation of Afghanistan, there wasn’t even an attempt to do so.
“We found the stabilization strategy and the programs used to achieve it were not properly tailored to the Afghan context, and successes in stabilizing Afghan districts rarely lasted longer than the physical presence of coalition troops and civilians,” read the introduction to one Lessons Learned Report released in May 2018 by SIGAR (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction).
A former US Diplomat, James Dobbins said the following:
“We don’t invade poor countries to make them rich. We don’t invade authoritarian countries to make them democratic. We invade violent countries to make them peaceful and we clearly failed in Afghanistan.”
SIGAR eventually disclosed more than 2,000 pages of unpublished notes and transcripts from 428 of the interviews, as well as several audio recordings.
In addition, these reports discovered massive corruption.
One unnamed executive with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), guessed that 90 percent of what they spent was overkill: “We lost objectivity. We were given money, told to spend it and we did, without reason.”
One unidentified contractor told government interviewers he was expected to dole out $3 million daily for projects in a single Afghan district roughly the size of a U.S. county. He once asked a visiting congressman whether the lawmaker could responsibly spend that kind of money back home: “He said hell no. ‘Well, sir, that’s what you just obligated us to spend and I’m doing it for communities that live in mud huts with no windows.’
Christopher Kolenda, an Army colonel who deployed to Afghanistan several times and advised three U.S. generals in charge of the war, said that the Afghan government led by President Hamid Karzai had “self-organized into a kleptocracy” by 2006 — and that U.S. officials failed to recognize the lethal threat it posed to their strategy.
“I like to use a cancer analogy,” Kolenda told government interviewers. “Petty corruption is like skin cancer; there are ways to deal with it and you’ll probably be just fine. Corruption within the ministries, higher level, is like colon cancer; it’s worse, but if you catch it in time, you’re probably ok. Kleptocracy, however, is like brain cancer; it’s fatal.”
Good news was repeatedly manufactured, or blown out of proportion, while bad news on the lack of progress, and the general notion that the war was actually a losing one were just buried.
Bob Crowley, the retired Army colonel who served as a counterinsurgency adviser in Afghanistan in 2013 and 2014, told government interviewers that “truth was rarely welcome” at military headquarters in Kabul.
“Bad news was often stifled,” he said. “There was more freedom to share bad news if it was small — we’re running over kids with our MRAPs [armored vehicles] — because those things could be changed with policy directives. But when we tried to air larger strategic concerns about the willingness, capacity or corruption of the Afghan government, it was clear it wasn’t welcome.”
When casualty counts or other markers were looking bad, the White House and Pentagon would spin them to make them look good, despite all indications.
“It was their explanations,” a senior NSC official said. “For example, attacks are getting worse? ‘That’s because there are more targets for them to fire at, so more attacks are a false indicator of instability.’ Then, three months later, attacks are still getting worse? ‘It’s because the Taliban are getting desperate, so it’s actually an indicator that we’re winning.’”
“And this went on and on for two reasons,” the senior NSC official said, “to make everyone involved look good, and to make it look like the troops and resources were having the kind of effect where removing them would cause the country to deteriorate.”
For 18 years, regardless of what was going on and how chaotic and hopeless it seemed, the officials claimed that progress was being made. They just misrepresented which side was making progress.