Dec 9, 2019

WaPo: American people misled for two decades over Afghanistan failures

The report covers failures across the Bush (L) and Obama administrations. Photo: Brendan SmialowskiI/AFP via Getty Images

Three U.S. administrations have, over 18 years, told the public the U.S. was making steady progress in Afghanistan despite knowing the war effort was failing.

Driving the news: The facts are laid bare in new reporting from Washington Post, based on 2,000 pages of interviews conducted by a government oversight agency to determine what went wrong in Afghanistan. The Post gained access to the documents after a three-year legal battle.

The big picture: Generals, diplomats and other top officials generally describe a war effort without a functional strategy, along with a corresponding PR effort to obscure the dysfunction and hide setbacks.

“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing. What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking. … If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction. … Who will say this was in vain?”
— Douglas Lute, a retired general and former Afghan war czar for Bush and Obama.

By the numbers:

  • When George W. Bush said the U.S. would be in Afghanistan until al-Qaeda was “brought to justice,” the timeline he cited was “a month” to a “year or two.”
  • 775,000 U.S. troops have been deployed to Afghanistan, many of them more than once, over 18 years of war. 2,300 died while 20,589 were wounded.
  • $934 billion to $978 billion was spent by the Pentagon and USAID in Afghanistan, with more spent by the CIA and other agencies.
  • $133 billion went into developing Afghanistan, exceeding the cost of the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe (adjusted for inflation).
  • Opium production is spiking despite $8 billion spent to fight it. Afghanistan now contributes 82% of the world’s supply.
  • Just 35% of Americans think the war effort “mostly succeeded,” while 49% think it “mostly failed,” per Pew.
  • 13,000 troops remain in Afghanistan.

The interviews reviewed by the Post were conducted by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) between 2014-2018. The subjects didn't expect them to become public.

Key takeaways:

  • Billions distributed to build up Afghanistan's economy created a political "kleptocracy" that has destroyed trust in the government and will plague Afghanistan for years to come.
  • The Afghan security forces trained by the U.S. to keep the peace as the U.S. pulls back are described as "incompetent, unmotivated and rife with deserters," per the Post.
  • There was political pressure to make U.S. initiatives like the Obama administration's troop surge look successful "despite hard evidence to the contrary."

The bottom line: So much of what the U.S. has attempted in Afghanistan has failed, and so much effort was made to keep the American people from knowing it.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

House committee to hold hearing on Afghanistan war findings

Eliot Engel. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Rep. Eliot Engel announced Tuesday plans for a hearing with the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction in response to an incriminating report that three U.S. administrations misled the public in regard to the Afghanistan war.

“I fully expect the State Department and other agencies to cooperate in the committee’s endeavor to provide transparency and accountability to the American people on the impact of 18 years of war and more than $2 trillion spent.”
— Rep. Eliot Engel, in a statement on Tuesday
Go deeperArrowDec 10, 2019

U.S. service member killed in Afghanistan

A U.S. armored vehicle in Afghanistan in 2011. Photo: Bay Ismoyo/AFP via Getty Images

A U.S. service member was "killed in action" in Afghanistan on Monday, a Defense Department statement said, per Stars and Stripes. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the "blast in the northern province of Kunduz," Reuters reports.

The big picture: 20 American troops who have been killed in combat operations in Afghanistan — the most in one year to die fighting militant groups there since 2014, "when the Pentagon euphemistically announced the 'end of combat operations," the New York Times notes.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Dec 23, 2019

U.S. Special Forces soldier killed in Afghanistan identified

Sgt. 1st Class Michael James Goble, 33, a U.S. Special Forces Soldier, who died in Afghanistan on Monday. Photo: U.S. Army

The U.S. service member killed in Afghanistan on Monday has been identified as Sgt. 1st Class Michael James Goble, the Defense Department said in a statement announcing an investigation into the incident.

Details: The 33-year-old Green Beret from Washington Township, New Jersey, died of "injuries sustained while his unit was engaged in combat operations" in Kunduz Province, Afghanistan, the statement said. He's the 20th U.S. service member to be killed in the country this year. The Taliban claimed it carried out the attack.

Go deeper: U.S. and Taliban restart peace talks in Qatar

Editor’s note: The photo caption has been corrected to show that Sgt. 1st Class Michael James Goble died on Monday (not Sunday).

Keep ReadingArrowDec 24, 2019