The theme of The Afghanistan Papers: A secret history of the war detailed by the Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock, is “At War With The Truth.” U.S. officials constantly said they were making progress. They were not, and they knew it.
This is a very long read documenting numerous interviews with those military and diplomatic personnel with direct experience on the ground in Afghanistan. Here I will provide just a few excerpts.
Remember how in the Vietnam War we had to destroy a village in order to save it? Read on.
A person identified only as a senior National Security Council official said there was constant pressure from the Obama White House and Pentagon to produce figures to show the troop surge of 2009 to 2011 was working, despite hard evidence to the contrary.
“It was impossible to create good metrics. We tried using troop numbers trained, violence levels, control of territory and none of it painted an accurate picture,” the senior NSC official told government interviewers in 2016. “The metrics were always manipulated for the duration of the war.”
Even when casualty counts and other figures looked bad, the senior NSC official said, the White House and Pentagon would spin them to the point of absurdity. Suicide bombings in Kabul were portrayed as a sign of the Taliban’s desperation, that the insurgents were too weak to engage in direct combat. Meanwhile, a rise in U.S. troop deaths was cited as proof that American forces were taking the fight to the enemy.
“It was their explanations,” the 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.”
In other field reports sent up the chain of command, military officers and diplomats took the same line. Regardless of conditions on the ground, they claimed they were making progress.
“From the ambassadors down to the low level, [they all say] we are doing a great job,” Michael Flynn, a retired three-star Army general, told government interviewers in 2015. “Really? So if we are doing such a great job, why does it feel like we are losing?”
Please understand this: this double-speak has been going on for three administrations under three presidents - George W. Bush, Barrack Obama, and now Donald Trump.
So what are the prospects for “victory”? On one count, not good. We are trying to remake this most ancient country into a western democracy. Good luck with that.
On another count, we’ve spent close to a trillion dollars on a military adventure that has taken over 150,000 lives. “Since 2001, an estimated 157,000 people have been killed in the war in Afghanistan.”
And on yet another, much of what we have spent there has fueled raging corruption.
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.”