“A confidential trove of government documents obtained by The Washington Post reveals that senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.”
“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 They include more than 2,000 pages of previously unpublished notes of interviews with people who played a direct role in the war, from generals and diplomats to aid workers and Afghan officials.”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 U.S. government tried to shield the identities of the vast majority of those interviewed for the project and conceal nearly all of their remarks. The Post won release of the documents under the Freedom of Information Act after a three-year legal battle.”
“In the interviews, 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. With a bluntness rarely expressed in public, the interviews lay bare pent-up complaints, frustrations and confessions, along with second-guessing and backbiting.” (WaPo)
Thus begins “The Afghanistan Papers: A secret history of the war,” a six part investigation put together by a team led by Craig Whitlock. Access to the first two parts and all the interview documents is available at the Washington Post without a paywall or article limitation. It took the Post three years and two lawsuits to get their hands on the interviews and records of the Congressional created Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). I found the scope of the deception and incompetence to be eye opening. Not unbelievable, just eye opening in its scope. Unfortunately, there was not a lot of coverage of this story outside of the WaPo series. It was lost in the waves of impeachment coverage.
I found the interview of Michael Flynn to be typical of the candid exasperation of those interviewed. By 2006 Flynn realized the war was useless. He said only a handful of US military and policy people could speak Dari or Pashto after years of war and that rosy assessments from operational commanders and policy people based on numbers and stats were produced at all levels.
He’s right, except not everyone thought the war was useless by 2006. I was the Chief of our Afghan Task Force for a six month period that year. The detachment chiefs in country were still pretty optimistic, lured by the siren song of counterrorism. Of course we were expanding our presence back then. Maybe we did turn one of the never ending series of corners. But in a year or two, we would begin pulling back towards Bagram. After several years at war, we were still totally reliant on interpreters in both Afghanistan and Iraq. That’s shameful. There was a time when failure to operate in the host country and/or target country language would mean a quick trip back to become a lowly CONUS case officer. Assessments based on numbers and stats… welcome to PowerPoint nation. The Six Sigma mindset was rampant among our “management.” That gimmicky mindset is applicable to manufacturing widgets, not creating intelligence and foreign policy or fighting a war. No wonder we never had a clue in Afghanistan.
WHY WE PERSIST
The origin of the war was vengeance, pure and simple. Without the quick capture or killing of bin Laden, our vengeance was never fully satisfied. The eventual killing of bin Laden after waiting so many years didn’t satisfy our vengeance. It was too late. Our vengeance shriveled into boredom and indifference.
Since the generals and politicians couldn’t officially acknowledge that we went into Afghanistan seeking revenge, they offered a succession of reasons for being there from “fighting them there so we don’t have to fight them here” to fighting a full blown counterinsurgency and building a new Afghanistan and finally to bringing opportunity to young Afghan women. All these things we did in a half assed manner. We were never asked to pay the full price and make the WWII-like sacrifice to meet any of these goals so our boredom and indifference flourished.
Candidate Trump indicated very early on that he intended to withdraw from Afghanistan. Unfortunately, he soon succumbed to his advisors and generals advice of increasing troop strength in 2017 as part of a surge strategy. This makes him no better or worse than his two predecessors who succumbed to the same kind of advice.
However Trump has recently restarted negotiations with the Taliban and has renewed his pledged to remove several thousand troops. "We're going down to 8,600 [from the 12,000 and 13,000 US troops now there] and then we make a determination from there as to what happens," Trump told Fox last August. "We're bringing it down." Of course the drawdown will be seen by the neocons as a unilateral concession to the Taliban. That shouldn’t phase Trump. I think he plans to reannounce this withdrawal next month. DoD officials have said that the smaller US military presence will be largely focused on counterterrorism operations against groups like al Qaeda and IS, and that the military's ability to train and advise local Afghan forces will be reduced considerably. Sounds like they’re still looking for a reason to stay.
Trump can break the cycle. He holds no ideological conviction for staying in Afghanistan. If he could get over his BDS (Bezos derangement syndrome), he could seize this Washington Post series, or at least the SIGAR lessons learned reports, and trumpet them through his twitter feed and helicopter talks. I believe he alone can generate a public cry for getting the hell out of Afghanistan and carry through with that action no matter how much his generals scream about it. But without a loud public outcry, especially from his base, Trump has no incentive to break the cycle. So all you deplorables better start hootin’ and hollerin’. Hopefully enough SJWs will join you to pump up the volume.
No head of state can take a decision of that magnitude and see it through. The sheer weight of arithmetical probability ensures that cannot happen.
We already discussed SIGAR’s yearly reports in one previous post some weeks ago. In the same post, we also discussed the UNODC yearly report.
Both these reports are published yearly and should be required reading for, if nobody else, the press corps at the very least.
But they are not required reading.
Along the years, there have been many damning reports that seemingly never made an impact in the minds of people whose job it is to ask fundamental questions, such as: “How?!”
Vanity Fair’s “Billions Over Baghdad” comes to mind. Or the Pentagon’s $500M paid to the British PR firm Bell Pottinger to produce AQ videos.
There are dozens of other reports that have come out over the years but that elicited no curiosity at all, let alone any investigation or action. One of my all time favorites, reported by major Western news outlets, is when Libyan rebels in the midst of the mayhem circa 2011 reportedly declared they were going to set up a central bank. If that does not elicit a guffaw I don’t know what could.
The Afghanistan Papers are not news to anyone that has followed this even from a distance. Mostly however, this is not news to anyone that has a basic understanding of sovereign fiscality and monetary policy.
Though the technology changes, thus also the timeline, the dynamic is the same throughout history.
The cycle is well known and it always carries through to its logical end because man has an innate belief that, this time, we can overcome the arithmetical reality of our actions.
The President of the USofA has no power to turn this ship around. The seat of power is no longer residing in the hands of civilian/political actors prime ministers or presidents though they may be.
Sovereign bankruptcy always and everywhere ensures that the security apparatus eventually takes over policy. This is an arithmetical identity and it is inescapable.
It was inescapable for ancient civilizations as it was for the Romans.
Fiscal reality trumps all. The timeline changes but the result is always the same.
If someone wanted to destabilize China,Russia and Central Asia the parts of Afghanistan America controls might be usefull for that.
Excellent, right up to the last sentence. SJWs are mere tools of people like George Soros and have zero anti-war agenda nor do they care about America’s manufacturing base ect.. In fact, many are chomping at the bit to join, what was once termed in the SST comments, the LGBTQ-C4ISR sect. I refer you to mayor Pete’s exchange with Tulsi on the matter; he even invoked our sacred honor as a reason to stay the course in Afghanistan.
For the past 2-3 years many generals and politicians have been using the threat of ISKP as the new bogeyman for staying in Afghanistan. This threat is not wholly unfounded, a disproportionately large number of US airstrikes since 2015-2016 have been against ISKP in Nangarhar(remember the MOAB?) rather than against the Taliban. If my memory serves me correctly ISKP was responsible for every single US casualty in 2016-2017. In the past two months however ISKP has been collapsing in its erstwhile stronghold of Nangarhar, surrendering to the ANA rather than fall into the hands of the Taliba,à la Jowzjan in summer 2018. I was very surprised by the number of foreign fighters and their families to come out of there. We have the Taliban to thank for these two collapses.
TTG What is the “Six Sigma” mindset?
IMO American “exceptionalism” doomed our effort in Afghanistan Very few of us are set up mentally to accept the notion that other peoples are legitimately different from us and that they don’t want to be like us and do things our way. I attribute this deformation on our part to the puritan heritage that you much admire. In your case your recent immigrant past seems to have immunized you from this deformation. As SF men we rightly fear and dread the attitudes of The Big Army, but, truth be told, it is we who are the outlier freaks in the context of American culture with its steamroller approach to just about everything.
Does it have more then a historical meaning in hindsight?
“In the interviews, more than 400 insiders offered unrestrained criticism of what went wrong in Afghanistan and how the United States became mired in …
What went wrong? Only? Seriously?
Never mind the huge wave of “Western” sympathy post 9/11. Concerning Afghanistan? But … Did it make sense … to start with?
Happy holidays to you, your family, including your son and of cause to everyone else around. Happy Hankukkah or whatever holidays may occur around the winter soltice.
Six Sigma is a management approach that uses data and statistics to improve business processes and reduce variation. It’s geared toward manufacturing. It was the rage for a while in DIA with all kinds of seminars and courses with different colored belts for completing the courses. In my opinion, it was pure bullshit. I avoided them like the plague. We should have been giving leadership studies and seminars.
JMH, you’re forgetting the peacenik hippie wing of the SJWs. Those who read “Mother Earth News” and “Laudato Si” with equal fervor.
Ah yes, all that shining city on the hill stuff biting us in the ass once again. Like the Puritans, we seem to believe we alone are His chosen people and are utterly shocked that all others don’t see this. In truth, Jesus probably sees our self righteous selves and our pilgrim forefathers much as he saw the Pharisees… a bunch of douche nozzles.
TTG wrote: “Trump can break the cycle. He holds no ideological conviction for staying in Afghanistan.”
That is correct and wrong IMHO:
Trump has no ideological conviction in the narrow political sense, therefore, he would be a good candidate.
OTOH Trump wants to be a winner, retreating from Afghanistan, however, may create a loser image Trump does not like.
My bet is, there will not be any substantial change.
Vig, it’s not just history. It’s our current policy and military action.
Merry Christmas to you, too, vig. One of my brothers, the one who lives in a Puerto Rican rain forest, took my father down to the Mohegan Sun today for a little casino action. It’s part of his 90th birthday celebration.
Ulenspiegel, I’m hoping Trump can spin a withdrawal as a win. If anyone can do so, it’s him. The SIGAR study seems to indicate we’re losers for staying there.
Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan, by Rajiv Chandrasekaran provides useful insight into many challenges that go beyond those in the brief summary of the “Afghanistan papers” through “Obama’s surge”. Some key points I recall were that some relevant federal agencies like USAID had lost any capability to do useful work (not just in Afghanistan) and that there was no central military command as the Marines had managed to report directly out of country (not through Petraeus, which I had never realized) and were apparently primarily focused on their image. This book also began with describing the delusional US Afghanistan aid policy in the 1950’s, creating a “little America” in country as a vision for their future.
Thank you for this post, TTG.
This is personal to me as well as significant to me as an American. My son is 100% disabled from a head wound received in combat in Afghanistan, in 2012, long after we should have left. When he was in ROTC and decided to branch into combat arms we discussed what that might mean in terms of becoming a casualty and he told me that he was at least as capable as leading in combat as anyone else and could not shirk that duty and pass it off onto someone else just to be safe; which made me very proud of him. He could not imagine that his life would be wasted in an effort that was known at the time to be so completely futile regarding anything beyond his personal honor and the men under his command.
On a less intense personal note, I just got done ticking off an old friend who had been over at the DoD working on DARPA for 10 or more years and who had tried to reconnect with me. He has severe TDS and tells me that one of Trump’s big failures is not listening more to the military and IC. In fact, he seems to think that Trump should just rubber stamp whatever they propose. I told him that, for me, it is good that Trump isn’t mindlessly adhering to whatever those people tell him to do. This guy has become a deep stater to the marrow. When we were close friends, he was not about that at all. Somehow he has lost his way.
Yes, Trump should promote this story. So we can get out of there and so maybe it won’t be repeated.
It’s a shrinking cohort. For some of these types, their TDS is actually causing them to side with the CIA and military. Enemy of my enemy…..and since there’s no draft, they have no skin in that game.
The promise of the Six Sigma approach is one of those hobgoblins of bureaucratic small minds. If you are critical of it, the cult considers you to be an unredeemable luddite.
“After several years at war, we were still totally reliant on interpreters in both Afghanistan and Iraq”
That pretty much says it all. Why bother when in just another Freidman Unit we’ll win!
I agree with all of that. The Mathers should have been strangled with their umbilical cords. Actually I should have widened my condemnation to ALL Calvinist cultural influences in the US
There have been various charlatans who have tried to reduce intelligence work to a science. They have all failed because intelligence is about humans and humans are more complex than that unless you are dealing with something like water depths in the lagoon at Tarawa.
Ah yes, the water depths in the lagoon at Tarawa,
my father was there.
I was told that there was an expert from New Zealand who told the USA Navy NOT to attack at the appointed hour, that the tides would be too low and they would be stranded. USA Navy ignored his expertise, attacked, got stranded and were easy targets.
Yes, true. I read that account myself. The commanding officer ignored that piece of information
Hmmm? Interesting context. …
It’s part of his 90th birthday celebration.
Close to the same age as my father and apparently ‘his’ birthday is close ‘to my brother’s’. 😉
If I may:
I was the Chief of our Afghan Task Force for a six month period that year.
Some type of coordination job?
I have been bemused over the years by many reports from SIGAR. None of them ever got much media coverage, and some of them were truly appalling. Like the $43 Million gas station https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/11/02/pentagon-afghanistan-gas-station-boondoggle/75037032/ I’m pretty sure if Turcopole were to visit Afghanistan again he would find they are still utterly dependent on native interpreters, and that no more than two or three commanders have even a smattering of Dari or Pashto. They still do not know who are the “good guys” and who are the “bad guys,” where they hang out, what they are doing.
Not true. There were no nautical charts of Tarawa and some Kiwis who knew the islands somewhat were consulted. The Kiwis said that the tides at that time of morning would provide ample (about a foot extra) clearance over the reef; which was generally true. However, on that fateful morning there was a rare – albeit not unheard of – phenomenon that caused the tides to behave unusually and to be lower than expected.
Vig, I was the CONUS based chief of all DIA HUMINT collection activities in Afghanistan. I had a team of desk officers and reports officers to conduct interagency coordination. As with all our in country positions, it was a temporary rotational assignment.
I would like to see some documentation for your statement.
It is contrary to what I heard from survivors (including my father who was Navy officer on site)and from written accounts.
Furthermore, I am/was a sailor/navigator with some experience in the South Pacific, on my own sailboat, and I have never heard of any such phenomenon as you describe. Tides and gravity are pretty well understood. So I don’t believe the story about Moses and the parting of the seas, and I cannot believe your story without some documentation.
Nothing personal, no intention to insult anyone, simple disagreement.
A New Zealand liaison officer, Major Frank Holland, had 15 years experience of Tarawa and warned that there would be at most 3 feet depth due to the tides. Shoup warned his troops that there would be a 50-50 chance that they would need to wade ashore, but unfortunately the attack was not delayed until more favorable spring tides.
The USA assault on Tarawa began at 6 AM on 20 November 1943.
Previous full moon was Nov 13, and new moon was Nov 27.
So Nov 20 fell exactly on the “half moon” day, which is when neap tides occur. Neap tides occur because the force of gravity from the Moon and the Sun negate each other as they are at 90 degrees.
High tides are lowest and low tides are highest during a neap tide.
During neap tide on November 20, the tide at Tarawa
would be low at 1.5 feet at 4:33 am, high 4.7 feet at 12:31 PM, then low at 2.2 ft at 4:53 PM, and high at 5 feet at 11:21 PM.
During spring tide at full moon in November, the tide at Tarawa would be low at 5.9 feet at 5:09 AM, high at 12.04 feet at 10:40 AM, then low again at 6.6 Feet at 5:23 PM, and high again at 12.04 feet at 11:41 PM.
So I hope you can see how Higgins boats with a draft of 4 feet got stuck on the reef all day in the USA assault of Tarawa.
“There were no nautical charts of Tarawa ”
Here is a 1920 Admiralty chart of Tarawa, was for sale on Amazon. Includes a detail of the lagoon entrance.
Yes. A neap tide. The assault force didn’t begin the final approach the beach – and the reef – until 0900. They had embarked landing craft and amphibious tractors earlier – 0600 – but didn’t head into the beach until later because the beach was being hit by naval guns and CAS. The neap tide was unusual in that lasted longer and impacted water levels more than normal. Also, as a Plan B the amtracks were supposed to bring the troops over the reef if the boats got stuck. The amtracs got shot up and wouldn’t float any more and others ran out of gas from all of the pre-landing circling and multiple trips. The lagoon had to be the landing site because all other possibilities were mined. A lot of lessons were learned from the disaster.
Yes, “CONUS based”, was the bit about which I wondered. Thanks, TTG.
2006 was the year of Condoleeza Rice’s “Birth Pangs of the New Middle East” . Remember? Three, four years after her mushroom clouds? Mind you I wouldn’t have remembered either. But yesterday, forget with what search routine, I stumbled across a blog linking to a book she published with Philip Zelikow in 2019 without discussing its contents:
“To Build a Better World: Choices to End the Cold War and Create a Global Commonwealth”
Triggered all type of bad memories concerning war drums, or the to me most irritating reasons given. They align with the reasons you listed. But the most irritating for me surfaced in let’s say some type of supportive argument? 1938 again?
Revenge sounds good. But the problem is that the Taliban didn’t attack NY and Washington. No matter how distasteful they may have been for us “Western Observers”.
Joint Publication 1, Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the United States, July 12, 2017:
Addressing Symptoms Not Root Causes?
Might the destruction of Hizbullah defang Iran and so lessen sectarian violence in Iraq and provide a “new Middle East” context for the stabilization of Iraq? Will thecorner at last be turned? It appears that in US eyes a “sustainable ceasefire” occurs when Hizbullah are militarily incapable of attacking Israel, their leadership decapitated, and their political wing disbanded or co-opted into mainstreamLebanese politics. Ultimately, logic suggests that for this to occur either theLebanese government and military are able to take control of its territory in the south and can sever ties between Hizbullah, Damascus and Tehran, or regime change in Syria and Iran severs those ties, irrespective of the Lebanese ability to control its own territory.
Note to myself. I never read James Mann’s book on the Rise of the Vulcans. Maybe I should?