The lies about the Afghanistan war, just like the lies about previous wars

The Washington Post has obtained, under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, an internal report produced by an obscure government agency known as the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction that consists of interviews with people intimately involved with the US war in that country. It shows that the American public has been lied to constantly about the progress of the war, given a rosy picture when those on the inside knew that the war was lost almost from the very start.

We saw this before with the Pentagon Papers that revealed that the government was constantly lying about the Vietnam war and its role in that country. But that was an internal secret academic study commissioned by then secretary of defense Robert McNamara that was leaked by Daniel Ellsberg. This new report is based, starting in 2014, on actual interviews with over 600 people involved with the war. Since they were being interviewed by an official government agency and encouraged to be candid and they felt that their views would remain confidential, they are brutally frank and their views are scathing, saying that no one knew why it was that a war that was started against al Qaeda did not end when most of those fighters had left Afghanistan by 2002, but instead morphed into a war against the Taliban who had not been part of the 9/11 attack. This lack of rationale for staying in Afghanistan continues to this day. As Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, a three-star general says, “We fundamentally did not understand the country we were in… What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

This is an old story, where America goes into a country with guns blazing because of some proximate cause that (in the case of Afghanistan now and earlier in Vietnam) does not make sense and does not properly take into account the difficulties that always arise when foreign troops try to impose their will on a large and diverse country where they do not know the local language or the culture and even seem ignorant of its history. The next shoe to drop is for the people assigned to deliver the news to the top leaders in government, knowing that the bearers of bad news are never welcome or, even worse, promoted, doctor the information to give the leaders the sense that things are going swimmingly, thus dragging on the war since it is believed, using that old cliché, that they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. And then of course the public were systematically lied to in order to maintain support for the war.

Several of those interviewed described explicit and sustained efforts by the U.S. government to deliberately mislead the public. They said 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.

“Every data point was altered to present the best picture possible,” Bob Crowley, an Army colonel who served as a senior counterinsurgency adviser to U.S. military commanders in 2013 and 2014, told government interviewers. “Surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced that everything we were doing was right and we became a self-licking ice cream cone.”

John Sopko, the head of the federal agency that conducted the interviews, acknowledged to The Post that the documents show “the American people have constantly been lied to.”

We know how this will end. Even when the house of cards is finally teetering and it finally dawns on everyone that everything is a lie and a shambles, the war will still go on as the US leadership argues that it cannot leave without looking like a loser and so it hangs on until at some point it is forced to leave. That breaking point may be near in Afghanistan.

At the end, all the US ends up doing is ruining the lives of a large number of the people living there, destroying whatever fragile infrastructure that had existed, and committing war crimes that are, of course, never punished. Instead everyone is given medals.

But don’t worry! The next war will be a quick and glorious victory because, even though the US has been through this same scenario so many times, the government and the military say that they have finally learned from the ‘mistakes’ (as they and the media like to call them) of the past. The question is never asked as to how many times one can make the same mistake before people realize that it is not a mistake at all but policy. Ironically, the title of this latest internal report is ‘Lessons Learned’.

You can listen to an interview with Post reporter Craig Whitlock on the radio show On Point and also read excerpts of the interview. Intransitive has a good set of excerpts from the actual Washington Post article.


  1. says

    I wonder how much of American war policy to this day is directly the result of feeling embarrassed at “the greatest nation ever on Earth” losing in Vietnam.

    As Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, a three-star general says, “We fundamentally did not understand the country we were in… What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

    And people kept trying to warn them. The Soviet Union left Afghanistan with their tails between their legs, but I guess American Exceptionalism was going to make the US an exception in Afghanistan too?

  2. invivoMark says

    Will this make the WaPo writers think twice about whole-heartedly endorsing the next war?

    I won’t be holding my breath.

  3. file thirteen says

    A smallish man Afghanistan, a watch dog in a nervous land
    They’re only there to lend a hand short memory

    Short memory, must have a, short memory

  4. Mano Singham says

    Tabby @#1,

    Indeed the term ‘Vietnam syndrome’ was used for quite a while following that debacle. But what it signified was not to signify deficiencies of government and military thinking. Instead it was used by them to bewail the fact that the public was apprehensive about supporting any more military actions overseas. In fact, the absurd invasion of the tiny island of Grenada was seen as a deliberate attempt to create a quick and easy victory so that the public would feel good about invasions again.

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