IT was an
unwinnable conflict but lies covered the failure. For almost two decades, the
American people have been misled by their leaders over a war that has gone
wrong. The US went into Afghanistan in 2001 out of revenge, with little
understanding of a land which is often described as the ‘graveyard of empires’.
Even if the
world’s greatest military power believes that it has not lost the war, it has
not won it either. All three American presidents since 2001 — George W. Bush,
Barack Obama and Donald Trump — and their military commanders were not able to
make good on their promises to win in Afghanistan.
investigative report ‘The Afghanistan Papers’ in the Washington Post reveals
how facts were distorted to hide the bleak reality of the battleground. Based
on thousands of pages of government documents and confidential interviews, the
report provides insightful detail into the lies and failures that are part of
the 18-year US-led war in Afghanistan.
It took a
three-year legal battle for Washington Post to publish the transcripts of the
interviews collected for a project of Sigar, a federal agency tasked with
ending corruption and inefficiency in America’s war effort. ‘The Afghanistan
Papers’ has echoes of the Pentagon Papers, a report on the secret military
history of the Vietnam War that was leaked in 1971 and exposed the fabrications
of the government. It’s like history repeating itself with no lessons learnt.
of frustration and desperation expressed by the top officials in the interviews
are in contrast to the public statements by the American civil and military
leadership. As highlighted in the report, the lack of a clear strategy and
conflicting objectives has dogged the war from the outset.
clueless the Americans were when they invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 to
avenge the 9/11 attacks was well described by the three-star army general,
Douglas Lute, the ‘war czar’ during the Bush and Obama administrations. “We
were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what
we were doing,” Gen Lute told interviewers in 2015 as quoted in the Washington
Post report. “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion
of what we were undertaking.”
been fundamental disagreements on the objectives of the US operation in
Afghanistan within US administrations. While some officials wanted Afghanistan
to become a political democracy, others wanted the war to change Afghan
culture, including its views on women’s rights. Some looked at the broader
picture, wanting a regional balance of power among the nearby states, according
to the report. Perhaps, the biggest confusion among various US departments has
been whether Pakistan is a friend or an adversary.
the war has dragged on, making it the longest the United States has ever
fought. Tens of thousands of Afghans have been killed in the war that has cost
a trillion dollars, and there is no sign yet of it ending anytime soon. Since
2001, over 775,000 US troops have been deployed in Afghanistan.
over 2,000 died there, while more than 20,000 were wounded in action. The
report shows a complete bureaucratic breakdown in Congress, Pentagon and the
State Department, resulting in military failure.
also contradicts the many public statements that were made by American
presidents, military commanders and diplomats who kept on assuring their
countrymen that the American war effort in Afghanistan was yielding dividends.
Barack Obama went so far as to declare the conflict a “good war”.
to the report, there have been sustained efforts by the US government to
deliberately mislead the public. “It was common at military headquarters in
Kabul — and at the White House — to distort statistics to make it appear the
United States was winning the war when that was not the case.”
to a senior counterinsurgency adviser to US military commanders quoted in the
report, there were several changes in the facts to present the best picture
possible. “Surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced that
everything we were doing was right and we became a self-licking ice cream
cone,” he told the interviewer.
The report quoting
senior officials also highlights the “US government’s botched attempts to
curtail runaway corruption, build a competent Afghan army and police force, and
put a dent in Afghanistan’s thriving opium trade”. Most of the US aid money was
siphoned off by Afghan officials and warlords aligned with the United States.
Afghanistan has become a narco state as a result of some very flawed policies.
spending billions of dollars on building and training the Afghan National Army
and other security personnel, Afghan forces have not been capable of fighting
the Afghan Taliban without American support. More than 64,000 Afghan soldiers
have been killed fighting the militia. The casualty rate is much higher among
Afghan soldiers than the US forces.
confidential interviews, Afghan security forces were described by US military
trainers as “incompetent, unmotivated and rife with deserters”. They also
accused Afghan commanders of appropriating the salaries of tens of thousands of
‘ghost soldiers’ — much of the money coming from the American taxpayer. None
expressed confidence that the Afghan army and police could ever “fend off, much
less defeat, the Taliban on their own”.
their public statements, US generals would declare that they were making steady
progress on “the central plank of their strategy: to train a robust Afghan army
and national police force that can defend the country without foreign help”.
the failure of the US forces in Afghanistan has long been evident, the
magnitude of chaos and confusion in Washington over the Afghan war is very
revealing. The damning report has come out at a time when the stalled talks
between the US and Taliban have been revived and it is likely to have some
impact on the negotiations between the two sides. It certainly gives the
Taliban more confidence.
Hussain is an author and journalist.
Headline: War, lies and failure: That’s the story of US in Afghan
Source: The Dawn, Pakistan