The war in Afghanistan has gone on so long that people born after it started are now old enough to join the military and go fight in it. Now, a new report from the Washington Post illustrates the level to which U.S. officials have tried to spin the success of the campaign to the American people.
The bombshell report, which was published Monday morning, deals with hundreds of interviews of people directly involved with the war contained in a lengthy list of government documents, which were the result of a project conducted by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). SIGAR was created by Congress in 2008 in an effort to oversee fraud and abuse in Afghan reconstruction efforts.
The specific project that gathered the interviews, called "Lessons learned," was started in 2014 and talked to over 600 people in multiple countries about the war. While the project did generate public reports about its findings, the newspaper explains, they were "written in dense bureaucratic prose" and "left out the harshest and most frank criticisms from the interviews."
Now those frank criticisms are contained in the new report, with links to the original government documents containing them.
"We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn't know what we were doing," three-star Army general and previous White House Afghan war czar Douglas Lute told SIGAR in 2015. "What are we trying to do here? We didn't have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking."
The newspaper obtained the documents as the result of a three-year legal battle over the Freedom of Information Act, it says. The documents show unvarnished, and dismal opinions about the success and future outlook of the nearly two-decade military campaign that has now spanned three presidential administrations. Responses from those identified in the story are compiled in a separate article.
"What did we get for this $1 trillion effort? Was it worth $1 trillion?" asked Jeffrey Eggers, a retired Navy SEAL who worked as a White House staffer under George W. Bush and Barack Obama. He also said, "After the killing of Osama bin Laden, I said that Osama was probably laughing in his watery grave considering how much we have spent on Afghanistan."
The interviews also describe efforts by the United States government to mislead the American people on how the war in Afghanistan was going. For example, an Army colonel who previously served as a senior adviser at International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) headquarters told SIGAR in 2016 that "every data point was altered to present the best picture possible."
In 2016, one National Security Council official told SIGAR that, facing pressure from the Obama administration to paint a positive picture of the war, "The metrics were always manipulated for the duration of the war." The official added that this was done for two reasons: "to make everyone involved look good, and to make it look like the troops and resources were having the kind of effect where removing them would cause the country to deteriorate."
In contrast, the story also gives a history of United States government officials consistently feeding the American people a positive outlook on the war — which began in late 2001 has so far claimed the lives of over 2,400 American service members — regardless of what was actually happening on the ground.
Inspector General John Sopko told the newspaper "the American people have constantly been lied to."