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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

The future of weddings is hybrid

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The post-pandemic obsession with hybrid events and classrooms and offices is coming to weddings too.

Why it matters: The average wedding in the U.S. costs about $30,000, and the biggest cost comes down to headcount. The pandemic ushered in a new way of celebrating the big day, with the nearest and dearest in attendance and the rest on Zoom — and that model will outlast the pandemic itself.

NBC readies streaming push for Tokyo

NBCUniversal

NBCUniversal will stream some of the most popular Olympics sporting events exclusively on its new streaming service Peacock, executives said Wednesday.

Driving the news: Most notably, USA Men’s Basketball live coverage will be available only to subscribers of Peacock's premium paid tier.

33 mins ago - World

In shift from Netanyahu, Israel tries diplomacy with U.S. on Iran deal

Bennett (R) and Lapid. Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/POOL/AFP via Getty

Israel has been trying to influence the Biden administration's approach to the Iran nuclear deal in a series of high-level meetings with U.S. officials, Israeli officials tell me.

Why it matters: Under former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel didn't engage with the Biden administration over the deal except to vehemently oppose it and stress that Israel wouldn't be constrained by it. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his new government also oppose the deal, but are trying to engage with the U.S. on the issue.