Afghanistan papers detail US dysfunction: ‘We did not know what we were doing’


A US army helicopter evacuates an injured American soldier of the 101st Airborne in Panjwai district in 2010. Photograph: Antonio Olmos/The Observer

A key theme of the trove of documents published this week was the lack of coherence in Washington’s approach to Afghanistan from the outset

by Peter Beaumont
Sat 14 Dec 2019

In the midst of Barack Obama’s much vaunted military surge against the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2010, Hayam Mohammed, an elder from Panjwai near the Pakistani border confronted an officer from the US 101st airborne who had come into his village.

“You walk here during the day,” the elder told the soldier bitterly as the Observer listened. “But at night [the Taliban] come bringing night letters” – threats targeting those collaborating with foreign forces.

Afghanistan papers reveal US public were misled about unwinnable war

That surge, which like so many other initiatives in Afghanistan’s long war was celebrated as a huge success, today serves only as a grim reminder of the deception and failure revealed in the explosive Afghanistan papers published by the Washington Post this week.

Comprising more than 600 interviews with key insiders collected confidentially by the Office of Special Inspector General for Reconstruction in Afghanistan [Sigar], and published after a three-year court battle, the trove has been compared in significance to the Pentagon Papers, the secret Department of Defense history of the Vietnam war leaked in 1971.

Like that secret history, the Afghanistan Papers’ accumulated oral history depicts a war mired in failure – in sharp contrast to the “misleading” story told to the US and British publics by officials in massaged figures and over-optimistic assessments.

But even if that deception has been the main focus of reporting, the hundreds of interviews – with senior generals and Afghan governors, with ambassadors, aid officials and policy advisers – also tell another story: how successive presidents from Bush through Obama to Donald Trump, publicly rejected “nation-building” but created a violent, corrupt and dysfunctional state only barely propped up by US arms.

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