“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 They include more than 2,000 pages of previously unpublished notes of interviews with people who played a direct role in the war, from generals and diplomats to aid workers and Afghan officials.”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.