The many failures revealed by the Afghanistan Papers
US officials have been lying about the war since it started. Why don’t we care?
In December, the Washington Post published a lengthy series based on interviews the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction conducted with military and civilian officials to evaluate US involvement in Afghanistan. The Afghanistan Papers—which were not intended for public view and took three years of legal battles for the Post to obtain—are frank, clear, and damning.
They show that US objectives in Afghanistan have been ill conceived for many years. Nearly $1 trillion in military spending has created tremendous destruction—including the death of more than 100,000 Afghans and 2,300 US soldiers—while $133 billion in development spending has created mostly just a toxic mix of corruption and opium. Since the Taliban’s initial ouster in 2003, US and NATO forces have lacked any clear idea of what winning would even look like. High-ranking officials—across three administrations and two parties—have routinely distorted statistics and misled the public to promote the idea that the war was being won. It has long been unwinnable, and they knew it.
Like the Pentagon Papers of the Vietnam era, the SIGAR interviews make plain the way US leaders got the nation stuck in a long and senseless war while concealing the truth. But the Afghanistan Papers have produced only a small wave of reaction, nothing like the tsunami of coverage in 1971. Why?