The Afghanistan Papers: Lies, Deception, and Failures 

The lies told by U.S. officials to cover the failures in the ‘Graveyard of Empires’. 

The War in Afghanistan has lasted for almost 20 years, caused the loss of life for over a hundred thousand people, and saw in 2018 according to Human Rights Watch the deaths of 10,000 people, out of a one-third of which were children (Human Rights Watch, 2019). Former President Barack Obama and the current President Donald Trump vowed to reduce the number of troops and end the war, while simultaneously increasing the numbers and even intensifying it; as we have seen with Trump's bombardment of Afghanistan, launching 1,113 strikes in September 2019 alone (Purkiss, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, 2019).  

Under Trump's leadership as commander and chief, troop numbers have in fact doubled since he took office and killed more civilians in 2018 & 2019 than any other year of the war, this number then grows to even more once you include the civilians killed by Afghan forces who are trained and commanded by Washington (Empire Files, 2020).

It becomes clear that the war does not appear to be ending anytime soon and bears many similarities to other U.S. military failures such as in Vietnam.  

The War in Afganistan has a 21st century equivalent of the Pentagon Papers, which contributed to the end of the Vietnam War and caused public outrage, but has not received the same outcry. The Afghanistan Papers were attained by The Washington Post through the Freedom of Information Act and via a three-year-long legal battle to get hold of the 2,000 pages of the “Lessons Learned” interviews.  

The Post also got hold of memos from the former defence secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld from the National Security Archive, these memos include instructions and comments by the Pentagon leader as the war unfolded. Published on 9 December 2019, the article and the documents reveal what went wrong and how officials had no clue how to end the conflict nor who the ‘enemy’ actually were; and include interviews with top officials, including diplomats, generals, ambassadors, and other insiders directly involved with the war. We shall cover how the officials lied, their lack of understanding regarding Afghanistan, the fueling of corruption, and how there was no action plan in place, leaving Afghanistan war-torn and devastated, remaining one of the poorest nations in the globe. 

The Lies 

The interviews from the Lessons Learned documents reveal that the failures in Afghanistan were not reported, as U.S. military adviser and retired Army colonel, Bob Crowley stated: “when we try to air larger strategic concerns about the willingness, capacity or corruption of the Afghan government, it was clear it wasn't welcome and the boss wouldn't like it.” Crowley later on in the interview further details how data was being manipulated in order to hide the failures, he states: “Every data point was altered to present the best possible picture. Surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced everything we were doing was right and we became a self-licking ice cream cone.” (Whitlock, et al, The Washington Post, 2019).  

The obtaining of these interviews and the truthfulness and bluntness of the statements given by U.S. officials have contradicted the years of public statements given by various diplomats, generals, and even presidents. The issuing of positive updates and pronouncements about the War in Afghanistan was nothing more than lies, as those issuing them knew them to be false and did not acknowledge that the war had, in fact, become unwinnable. 

The lies which Washington officials continued to peddle about the apparent ‘success’ of the War in Afghanistan is refuted by individuals like retired U.S. Army lieutenant general, former national security adviser, and former director of Defense Intelligence Agency Micheal Flynn, who in these interviews when discussing the intelligence reports, states: “I can’t remember one that gave a rosy picture, not one. So how do we come to grips with what the intelligence community says and what the operational and policy community is saying? I would tell you there is huge, huge political biasedness in this. The reason is that there is a political bias, and the reason is that there is a lack of courage in senior government officials to tell the truth.” (Whitlock, et al, The Washington Post, 2019)

The Lack of Understanding Afghanistan 

In typical American exceptionalist arrogance, the U.S. military could not part with their hubris and as a result did not understand Afghanistan, as former Army lieutenant (referred to a war czar for Afghanistan) and former U.S. ambassador to NATO, Douglas Lute stated in the report: “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing.”. Lute continues to outline the failures and incompetence of leadership, stating: “we didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were doing.” and how much money was wasted in Afghanistan, with Lute suggesting that so much money was being poured into the country just to show they could spend it, and infrastructure was developed that the Afghans could not use nor sustain; the U.S. has allocated more than $133 billion to rebuild Afghanistan (Whitlock, et al, The Washington Post, 2019)

Lute continues in this interview to discuss the lack of understanding, stating: “There is a fundamental gap of understanding on the front end, overstated objectives, an overreliance on the military, and a lack of understanding of the resources necessary.” (Whitlock, et al, The Washington Post, 2019). This lack of understanding Afghanistan and the problems which riddled the nation only led to a prolonged period of death and destitution for the Afghan people, the further impoverishment of the nation, and perpetuating & intensifying the conflict. 

The Fuelling of Corruption 

Corruption amongst U.S. & Afghanistan officials is present and reiterated by various interviewees, such as by Micheal Flynn who suggests that there was corruption in reporting and while they painted a pessimistic image on the ground as it climbed through the chain of command the intelligence reports were manipulated to appear more positive, he stated: “There is corruption in reporting and not just corruption in the theft that occurred. This was irresponsible, to be kind, in reporting operationally that everything was wonderful.

That also includes from the State Department. There is no way that over the years, to include this year, that we can say things are wonderful.” 
(Whitlock, et al, The Washington Post, 2019)

Flynn later on in the interview describes how people should have been held accountable for corruption but they often were not, more often aiding it, and how this did not instil confidence of the U.S. amongst the Afghan population. He states: “There are a lot of guys that should have been arrested. You have to have accountability. That is part of the problem with instilling confidence in a population — they see it [corruption] happening right in front of their eyes. We see it happening and we don't look the other way, we actually enable it.” (Whitlock, et al, The Washington Post, 2019)

Other U.S. officials like the former ambassador to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ryan Crocker have also spoken on corruption suggesting how it was clear that Washington was fueling it, as pumping in millions of dollars into a fragile state and society literally breeds corruption. Crocker stated: “you just cannot put those amounts of money into a very fragile state and society, and have it not fuel corruption. You just can’t.”.  

He continues to discuss the rampant corruption within Afghanistan and the lack of accountability and action against it. Even mentioning former President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai’s (who was backed by the U.S.) family as being complicit in the rife levels of corruption. Mahmoud Karzai, Hamid Karzai’s brother, who was a leading shareholder in Kabul Bank received millions of dollars in unsecured loans.

Croker stated: “You know, by the time I left, it was fairly clear to me that again, given the entrenched nature of corruption and the extent to which the establishment, you know, including KARZI’s own family, as well as (inaudible), that it was highly unlikely that steps would be taken to bring people to account.” (Whitlock, et al, The Washington Post, 2019)

Further interviewees such as former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Robert Finn, described how the money which was intended to rebuild Afghanistan ceased to help the people, rather supplement the military and even local militia and police training; aiding corruption.

Later in his interview, Finn described how American hubris blinded them as Afghanistan had long been intertwined in a civil war, which Washington felt they would stop once the U.S. invaded and threw money at; which also led to the furthering of corruption, exacerbating all existing problems (Whitlock, et al, The Washington Post, 2019)

The excessive amounts of money became a running theme throughout these interviews, many describing how they had more money than they knew what to do with. For example, former director of Joint Staff, Indiana National Guard, and retired U.S. Army brigadier general Brian Copes, stated: “Congress gives us money to spend and expects us to spend all of it.” & “The attitude became we don't care what you do with the money as long as you spend it.”.

The environments described where obscene amounts of money are given and put into a destabilised and unfunctional state as Crocker mentioned earlier, only breeds and perpetuates corruption (Whitlock, et al, The Washington Post, 2019). Copes statements are reiterated similarly by Lute, who stated: “We were also pouring money into huge infrastructure projects to obligate money that was appropriated to show we could spend it.” (Whitlock, et al, The Washington Post, 2019)

No Plan in Place 

The sheer lunacy of the Afghanistan project is similar to the catastrophic Vietnam War in many ways, such as not knowing what to do nor who the enemy even is/was. The U.S. officials, as well as troops on the ground not knowing who the enemy is/was, is a major cause of massive civilian deaths, which have only perpetuated the war and enraged many Afghans who then sought to oust the occupying forces; similarly to that in Vietnam, where U.S. brutality caused many to join National Liberation Front (Viet Cong).

The memos which The Post attained from former defence secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, have revealed the scope of the problem with Rumsfeld stating: “I have no visibility into who the bad guys are in Afghanistan” (Whitlock, et al, The Washington Post, 2019)

The lack of organisation and a clear cut plan served as a major weakness to the U.S, as Lute in his interview continuously reiterated. Lute, jokes on the loose attempts to establish a market economy rather than target the flourishing drug trade (in opium which has grown since U.S. occupation) as this Lute states: “is the only part of the market that’s working.”. Lute, proceeds throughout this interview to describe the mess that the War in Afghanistan is, stating: “If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction…2,400 lives lost. Who will say this was in vain?” (Whitlock, et al, The Washington Post, 2019)
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