The Washington Post’s ‘Afghanistan Papers’ Examines the Root Failures of the Longest Armed Conflict in US History
Reporting from the Washington Post confirms what many have known for years: Much of what top officials told the public about the United States’ 18-year war in Afghanistan was false, wildly exaggerated to portray success, and concealed a very different reality than what Afghan civilians and U.S. troops experienced on the ground.
The multi-part report is titled “The Afghanistan Papers,” and was written by Craig Whitlock. Released Monday, it is based on 2,000 unpublished pages of notes from interviews conducted by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), which was tasked with looking into the reasons for this country’s failures surrounding the Afghanistan War. The U.S. government sought to keep secret the names of officials interviewed for the investigation, but the Washington Post won a three-year legal battle allowing their publication.
The legal battle isn’t quite over, but the Post decided to publish the story now anyway. “The Post is publishing the documents now, instead of waiting for a final ruling, to inform the public while the Trump administration is negotiating with the Taliban and considering whether to withdraw the 13,000 U.S. troops who remain in Afghanistan,” Whitlock wrote.
“The American people have been lied to,” John Sopko, head of SIGAR, told the Washington Post.
The report places blame on both sides of the aisle, citing efforts to conceal the reality of the unwinnable war that continued across the presidencies of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump.
“In news conferences and other public appearances, those in charge of the war have followed the same talking points for 18 years. No matter how the war is going—and especially when it is going badly—they emphasize how they are making progress,” writes Whitlock.
The documents also portray U.S. government officials as disorganized and unsure of what the goals in Afghanistan were even supposed to be.
“Some U.S. officials wanted to use the war to turn Afghanistan into a democracy. Others wanted to transform Afghan culture and elevate women’s rights. Still others wanted to reshape the regional balance of power among Pakistan, India, Iran and Russia,” Whitlock reports.
The report cites the work of Neta Crawford, a political science professor and co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University. That project found that “since 2001, the Defense Department, State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development have spent or appropriated between $934 billion and $978 billion, according to an inflation-adjusted estimate.”
Crawford appeared on The Real News Network this past November to talk about her work on the Costs of War Project and whether U.S. military spending is keeping us safer.
“Is the United States safer because of the wars?” she said. “One might ask it this way. Following the 9/11 attacks, there were estimates of the numbers of Al Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan and there were estimates later in the other war zones of the number of militants and ISIS and other organizations that have followed on from Al Qaeda. In no war zone is that the case that we have fewer militants. In fact, we’ve killed many tens of thousands of militants, that is, enemy combatants. Yet those organizations are roughly the same size today as they were when they started — as when we started these wars. It’s unclear that these wars are effective at killing militants. What they may be doing is making more militancy in the sense that people are defending themselves from U.S. and other countries’ aggression.”