Spanning three presidential administrations, nearly 20 years and with estimated costs exceeding $1 trillion, the U.S.’s war in Afghanistan was long believed unwinnable by military and government officials.
So, they lied about it, The Washington Post reports.
The Post Monday released more than 2,000 pages of documents containing notes and interviews with people directly involved with the war. The Post fought for more than three years via court battles and Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain “Lessons Learned” reports from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).
“The American people have been constantly lied to,” SIGAR head John Sopko told The Post.
The $11 million project was supposed to highlight policy failures in Afghanistan in order to prevent the same mistakes during future wars and invasions. The more than 600 people interviewed did not expect their comments to reach the public, thereby giving unprecedented and candid insight into the war’s failings.
All the while, president after president, along with other government officials, gave updates and made promises to the American people they knew to be false, the Post report states.
“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” three-star Army general Douglas Lute, who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015, The Post found. “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”
More than 775,000 U.S. troops have been deployed to Afghanistan after the war began in 2001 to defeat the Taliban and remove it from power. Figures from the Defense Department show 2,300 soldiers have died in the war while more than 20,500 have been wounded.
“If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction . . . 2,400 lives lost,” Lute told interviewers, “Who will say this was in vain?”
Lute blamed many of the deaths on bureaucratic breakdowns within the federal government.
Court battles continue over releasing names of people involved in the investigation, but the paper said it released the documents now to inform the public while the Trump Administration negotiates with the Taliban and considers if it will withdraw the remaining 13,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
Some interviewed even went as far as to say the war in Afghanistan was an unmitigated failure.
“We don’t invade poor countries to make them rich,” former senior U.S. diplomat James Dobbins, who served as a special envoy to Afghanistan under presidents Bush and Obama, told interviewers. “We don’t invade authoritarian countries to make them democratic. We invade violent countries to make them peaceful, and we clearly failed in Afghanistan.”