US generals, diplomats and officials on all levels up to the Oval Office have spun facts and misrepresented the actual progress being made with the war in Afghanistan despite having knowledge that the now 18-year-long war was not making much progress, or any at all, the documents obtained by Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act after a three-year-long legal battle reveal.
The documents are essentially a result of a multi-year government project called Lessons Learned that sought to pinpoint mistakes made by the US during the lengthy war in Afghanistan in order to avoid them in the future, interviewing around 400 former servicemen, commanders, generals, diplomats, intelligence officials involved in the operations. Most of their names remained classified, but in the interviews obtained by the media outlet, they give an explosive look behind the scenes of the war that the US government allegedly has long known it couldn't win.
No Preparations and False Goals
One of the biggest mistakes the US made according to the accounts of several interviewees was the lack of understanding of peculiarities of how Afghanistan was functioning prior to the US invasion.
"We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking", Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general.
Another problem American forces encountered later, after delivering the first retaliatory strikes against Al-Qaeda* for the 9/11 attacks, was correctly determining the US goals in this war, the interviews revealed. The idea that poorly determined goals might severely prolong the US stay in Afghanistan was first voiced by Donald Rumsfeld, the former US Defence Secretary, who expressed such concerns in one of his official memos in the first years of the war.
Despite these warnings, as time went on, the US started losing sight of its goal, according to the accounts of the interviewees, which started shifting to turning Afghanistan into a democracy, fostering the development of the country's culture and improving the situation with women’s rights.
"With the AfPak strategy there was a present under the Christmas tree for everyone. By the time you were finished you had so many priorities and aspirations it was like no strategy at all. If you have 50 priorities then you don't have any priorities at all", an unidentified official stated in an interview.
At some points US military commanders literally struggled to get the answer to a simple question – "who are the bad guys?"
"[Army Special Forces] thought I was going to come to them with a map to show them where the good guys and bad guys live. It took several conversations for them to understand that I did not have that information in my hands. At first, they just kept asking: ‘But who are the bad guys, where are they?’", an unnamed former adviser to US armed forces recalled.
The situation only worsened due to bureaucratic obstacles in Congress, General Douglas Lute opined in one of the papers. He argued that the US legislative body created the same problems for the Army that the Department of Defence once did in the highly unsuccessful and lengthy Vietnam War.
"If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction [...] 2,400 lives lost", Lute said.
Around $1 Trillion Spent on War and Fostering Corruption
According to the interviews obtained by The Washington Post, US forces suffered defeats in several directions at the same time. The fight against terrorists, namely the Taliban*, have yielded little results, as some reports indicated that the movement had been gathering strength while US and Afghan casualties rose as a result of their attacks.
The situation was no better in terms of training the Afghan police and army, something that former President Barack Obama saw as critical to ensure that US forces would be able to leave the country without it descending into chaos. US servicemen, tasked with training Afghan forces, described them as "incompetent, unmotivated and rife with deserters".
"About third of ALP seemed to be drug addicts or Taliban. [Their] main concern was getting fuel from the US unit", one US military officer shared with another, elaborating that the Afghan soldiers were simply "stealing" it.
The US attempts at Afghanistan state-building failed too. Not only was the American democratic system alien to its people, but the institutions Washington established there lacked any popular support due to rampant corruption.
"Our policy was to create a strong central government which was idiotic because Afghanistan does not have a history of a strong central government. The timeframe for creating a strong central government is 100 years, which we didn’t have", an unidentified former State Department official stated in an interview.
The corruption itself was fostered by US policies. Those tasked with allocating funds chosen by Congress complained that 90 percent of what they received was absolutely not necessary and couldn't be properly used. Washington has spent over $133 billion to rebuild Afghanistan, way more than was spent, adjusted for inflation, under the Marshall Plan to restore Europe after the Second World War. In total, the US spent according to some estimates nearly $1 trillion to wage this lengthy war.
The problem is local governments didn't have any trouble allocating these funds to their own pockets, the interviewees claim. Christopher Kolenda, an Army colonel who served in Afghanistan at the time, said that the government of President Hamid Karzai had “self-organized into a kleptocracy” by 2006, using these funds. This in turn, along with the government's inefficiency, infuriated the local population, who often turned to the Taliban* as a solution.
How It Was All Presented in THE US
Despite worrisome reports coming from the frontlines, US officials showed no sign of being worried about the Afghanistan war's future.
"The history of military conflict in Afghanistan [has] been one of initial success, followed by long years of floundering and ultimate failure. We’re not going to repeat that mistake", former President George W. Bush said.
According to accounts of several interviewers, even numbers in reports, including casualties, that looked bad were spun to look more positive, while in fact situation had been dire at some points.
"Suicide bombings in Kabul were portrayed as a sign of the Taliban’s desperation [while], a rise in U.S. troop deaths was cited as proof that American forces were taking the fight to the enemy", an anonymous senior NSC official is described by The Washington Post as saying.
Not only US officials, but the military leadership itself promoted this more positive picture of the Afghan war, The Washington Post report indicated.
"Are we losing this war? Absolutely no way. Can the enemy win it? Absolutely no way", Army Major Genenra Jeffrey Schloesser said during a news briefing from Afghanistan.
However, not all of them did so. Retired three-star Army general and Trump's former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, shared in a 2015 interview that "from the ambassadors down to the low level, [they all say] we are doing a great job" and wondered how it came that "it feels like we are losing" the Afghan war, if the US was "doing such a great job".
*Al-Qaeda and Taliban Movement are terrorist organisations banned in Russia