In the course of three administrations, the United States government lied to the public about missteps and failures during the 18 year-long Afghanistan war and suggested successes that did not exist, The Washington Post revealed Monday publishing thousands of pages of documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and lawsuits.
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Despite U.S. officials' continuing statements that progress in Afghanistan was being made, the documents show the contrary and expose the way the successive governments led the military campaign in the Asian country, denouncing a shaky strategy, failures to develop an effective Afghan army and struggles to defeat the Taliban and to fight corruption in the government.
“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” Douglas Lute, a former three-star Army General who assisted the White House in supervising the Afghan war during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015.
“What are we trying to do here?” he said. “We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”
The documents cite officials close to the war efforts as describing a campaign by the U.S. government to distort the grim reality of the war.
“Every data point was altered to present the best picture possible,” Bob Crowley, an Army colonel who served as a counterinsurgency adviser to U.S. military commanders in 2013 and 2014, told 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.”
The interviews were conducted as part of a project by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).
SIGAR, a U.S. government's leading oversight authority on Afghanistan reconstruction was created in 2008 to provide independent and objective oversight of the Afghanistan Reconstruction funds. It has produced seven reports so far from the more than 400 interviews, and several others are planned.
SIGAR has many a time been vocal about the war’s missteps in its reports over the past ten years, including questions about vast waste in the nearly US$1 trillion spent on the conflict.
Of the US$133 billion that the U.S. spent on reconstruction programs in Afghanistan for example, about $83 billion went toward training the Afghan Army and police forces.
“We don’t invade poor countries to make them rich,” The Post quoted James Dobbins, a former senior U.S. diplomat who served as a special envoy to Afghanistan under Bush and Obama said in his interview. “We don’t invade authoritarian countries to make them democratic. We invade violent countries to make them peaceful and we clearly failed in Afghanistan,”
The head of SIGAR John Sopko acknowledged that the documents show “the American people have constantly been lied to,” according to The Washington Post.
The Pentagon released a statement Monday saying there has been “no intent” by the department to mislead Congress or the public.
Afghanistan continues to be Washington’s longest conflict in its history. It was started after the Sept. 11 attacks in New York City when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan as part of the so-called "war on terror" to dismantle Al-Qaeda by removing the Taliban from power. Approximately 220,000 people have died as a direct result of the invasion.