Some of us are old enough to remember the New York Times publication of “The Pentagon Papers,” the secret history of the war in Vietnam compiled by the Department of Defense; they were purloined by Daniel Ellsberg, who opposed the war and shared with the Times. The revelations in those papers helped to end that conflict.

Now the Washington Post is publishing government papers about the long-lasting war in Afghanistan that it obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. Its revelations are familiar and depressing. Our government lied to us. There were no realistic plans in place for success. Thousands of lives and about a trillion dollars were spent without a strategy.

The article was written by Craig Whitlock. If you want to read the story in full, subscribe to the Washington Post.

KONAR PROVINCE, 2010 (Moises Saman/Magnum Photos)

THE PENTAGON, 2003 (David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)

A confidential trove of government documents obtained by The Washington Post reveals that senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.

The documents were generated by a federal project examining the root failures of the longest armed conflict in U.S. history. They include more than 2,000 pages of previously unpublished notes of interviews with people who played a direct role in the war, from generals and diplomats to aid workers and Afghan officials.

The U.S. government tried to shield the identities of the vast majority of those interviewed for the project and conceal nearly all of their remarks. The Post won release of the documents under the Freedom of Information Act after a three-year legal battle.


At war with the truth

In the interviews, more than 400 insiders offered unrestrained criticism of what went wrong in Afghanistan and how the United States became mired in nearly two decades of warfare.

With a bluntness rarely expressed in public, the interviews lay bare pent-up complaints, frustrations and confessions, along with second-guessing and backbiting.

Click any underlined text in the story to see the statement in the original document

“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015. He added: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

“If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction . . . 2,400 lives lost,” Lute added, blaming the deaths of U.S. military personnel on bureaucratic breakdowns among Congress, the Pentagon and the State Department. “Who will say this was in vain?”

Since 2001, more than 775,000 U.S. troops have deployed to Afghanistan, many repeatedly. Of those, 2,300 died there and 20,589 were wounded in action, according to Defense Department figures.

The interviews, through an extensive array of voices, bring into sharp relief the core failings of the war that persist to this day. They underscore how three presidents — George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump — and their military commanders have been unable to deliver on their promises to prevail in Afghanistan.


See the documents More than 2,000 pages of interviews and memos reveal a secret history of the war.

Part 2: Stranded without a strategy Conflicting objectives dogged the war from the start.

Responses to The Post from people named in The Afghanistan Papers

With most speaking on the assumption that their remarks would not become public, U.S. officials acknowledged that their warfighting strategies were fatally flawed and that Washington wasted enormous sums of money trying to remake Afghanistan into a modern nation.

The interviews also highlight the U.S. government’s botched attempts to curtail runaway corruption, build a competent Afghan army and police force, and put a dent in Afghanistan’s thriving opium trade.

The U.S. government has not carried out a comprehensive accounting of how much it has spent on the war in Afghanistan, but the costs are staggering.

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 calculated by Neta Crawford, a political science professor and co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University.

Those figures do not include money spent by other agencies such as the CIA and the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is responsible for medical care for wounded veterans.

“What did we get for this $1 trillion effort? Was it worth $1 trillion?” Jeffrey Eggers, a retired Navy SEAL and White House staffer for Bush and Obama, told government interviewers. He added, “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 documents also contradict a long chorus of public statements from U.S. presidents, military commanders and diplomats who assured Americans year after year that they were making progress in Afghanistan and the war was worth fighting.


46 Comments Post your own or leave a trackback: Trackback URL

  1. Yvonne says:

    And all those LIVES gone and so young. Old white males send other people’s children to war.

  2. Ed says:

    As the most decorated U.S. Marine, Major-General Smedley D. Butler, warned us in 1935, War Is A Racket.

    The main reason the U.S. STILL has military bases in Germany, Okinawa, South Korea, and so many other countries (more than 800 bases in more than 70 countries; even the Pentagon can’t give an accurate number); is waging illegal wars of aggression in many countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Niger, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen); deploys nuclear-armed fleets on every ocean; has a nuclear arsenal of more than 6,000 weapons (when about 100 would cause a Nuclear Winter which would exterminate most life on earth); has military forces on Russia’s western border and in the South China Sea and in Japan and Korea and the Philippines; is illegally drone-bombing in many countries (war crimes); has deployed Special Operations Forces in more than 130 countries; has thousands of military bases in the U.S.; and has a higher military budget than the next seven countries COMBINED (including China and Russia), is because the war profiteers have such power and influence over the President, Congress, and state and local governments, as President Eisenhower warned us in his 1961 Farewell Speech.

    Meanwhile, we “can’t afford” healthcare for all, free college, ending poverty and homelessness, a needed Green New Deal, repairing and updating our crumbling and ancient infrastructure, and supporting our public schools.

    It will be a great day when the schools have all the funds they need and the military has to hold a bake sale to buy new weapons.

    The people who set the despicable, depraved, cruel spending priorities of our governments are greedy, selfish sociopaths.

    The United States is a Corporatist-Imperialist nation, and we have been warned:

    “Empire abroad entails tyranny at home.” – Hannah Arendt

    • retired teacher says:

      The military industrial complex is full of lobbyists for private companies and contractors that waste our money.

  3. retired teacher says:

    Our original mission was to fight terrorism. ISIS took off to other easier targets, and the US got bogged down fighting The Taliban. No nation will ever beat them in traditional combat. They are fanatics that are part of the fabric of Afghanistan. Even if they have to wait a hundred years to complete their mission, they will do it. The best we could have hoped for would have been a two state solution that never materialized. Our money would have been better spent on health care and education for our own people.

  4. retiredbutmissthekids says:

    Quelle surpris!
    No. I think, by now, most or all of us have seen Ken Burns’ doc on Viet Nam.
    &, now, we’ve abandoned the Kurds (& the Al Queda prisoners escaped!), AND are staying to “guard the oil fields”–???
    Last, but not least, training Saudis on U.S bases, &, now, a shooting, classified as a “terrorist act,” as well as having done nothing about Khasoggi’s (sorry if misspelled) murder?
    In short, what retired teacher said at 3:35 PM.

  5. bethree5 says:

    The amount spent on the Afghan war is approximately $50billion/yr since 2001. That same amount could have tripled Title I funding, plus more than doubled IDEA allocation [getting it up to 32%] in every year 2001-present.

    • Bob Shepherd says:

      We have spent enough on these wars to have put solar panels on the roofs of every building, every doghouse, family home, business, public building, etc., in the United States three times over. And for what?

      Even the US Army publican Stars and Stripes once ran an article on its front page asking, “10 years on, why are we here?”

      Ask the former CEO of Halliburton, Dick Cheney, about that.

      $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ . . . $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

      The one and only reason. Some people profited enormously.

      See Smedley Butler’s War Is a Racket.

      • Bob Shepherd says:

        cx: publication, ofc

      • SomeDAM Poet says:

        I don’t even have a 🐕 🏠, never mind a 🌞 collector for it.

        What’s your point?

      • Bob Shepherd says:

        The point is that the US could have, for the price of these wars, made MAJOR strides toward something important–reducing our carbon footprint and reliance on fossil fuels. In other words, that money could have served a great purpose.

      • A Zen Lesson:

        “A senior monk and a junior monk were traveling together. At one point, they came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a very young and beautiful woman also attempting to cross. The young woman asked if they could help her cross to the other side.

        The two monks glanced at one another because they had taken vows not to touch a woman.

        Then, without a word, the older monk picked up the woman, carried her across the river, placed her gently on the other side, and carried on his 

        The younger monk couldn’t believe what had just happened. After rejoining his companion, he was speechless, and an hour passed without a word between them.

        Two more hours passed, then three, finally the younger monk could contain himself any longer, and blurted out “As monks, we are not permitted a woman, how could you then carry that woman on your shoulders?”

        The older monk looked at him and replied, “Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river, why are you still carrying her?”

        NOTE: The criminal waste of money and lives in Afghanistan, Vietnam, Iraq, Syria, Somalia (this is the short list) is water under the bridge. The only way to build a dam that will stop those crimes is to vote out all the Trumplicans, the neo-liberals, the neo-conservates, the Koch libertarians, et al.

        It would probably also help to identify the one-percenters that profited the most from those wars, strip them and their families of their wealth and properties they piled up. Then lock them up in a dark-and-damp dungeon (with torture chambers) for the rest of their lives. The only sustenance they get fed is oatmeal and water twice a day.

      • Bob Shepherd says:

        I know this one!!! From Sand Pebbles:101 Zen Stories by Nyogen Senzaki, 1919. Great tale!

      • Bob Shepherd says:

        from a great book. Here’s another story from that one, in my retelling:

      • “Like this cup,” Nan-in replied, “you are full of ideas and opinions. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

        I accept laughter whenever I can get it. Thanks for this. Without saying a world Nan-in taught him something about Zen.

      • Bob Shepherd says:

        101 Zen Stories, and Sand and Pebbles

      • Bob Shepherd says:

        Thank you, Lloyd, for sharing this wonderful, old story! I, too, love these things.

      • Bob Shepherd says:

        That’s a great story, Lloyd, but I don’t think it should be applied here. We need to learn from this history of the utter waste of these wars. One cannot tell it enough, I think.

  6. Lisa Smith says:

    The article says that 2,300 American lives were lost. I suggest the cost is much higher. About 20 active duty soldiers and veterans committing suicide every day; surely many are due to PTSD as a consequence of service in a war zone (Afghanistan, Iraq, etc.). So, too, is the number of wounded 20,589, far too low; few, if any, of those psychologically wounded by war would be in that total.

  7. There are winners. The winners are the ones that got most of that almost $1 trillion dollars that achieved nothing. But, isn’t getting very wealthy something … for the few that did?

    The CEOs and major stockholders of the U.S. weapons industry are the biggest winners.

    Like Cadet Bone Spurs Donald Trump, the corrupt, greedy capitalists in charge of the private sector weapons industry in the U.S. made huge sums of blood money and did not fight alongside our troops — just like they did in Korea, Vietnam, Iran, Syria, Somalia, and other countries since the end of WWII.

    It is never about winning a war. Winning a war means an end to the profits.

  8. Reblogged this on The Soulful Veteran's Blog and commented:

    For the United States: Korea, Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan were all wars fought for profits and not to win. When a war ends, the profits for the weapons industry dry up.

  9. RT says:

    It strikes me that we are ignoring the reason we always see to go to war. While money is certainly a part of it, a more complete description would be the way politics meshes with money.

    • ciedie aech says:

      and the military is so usefully used to steal and then protect BIG money interests: there is so much to be sucking out of Afghanistan these days — #1 producer of opium and truly massive mineral deposits just waiting to be plundered

      • I do not think the US is going to be the country that gets Afghanistan’s mineral deposits.

        China is right next door across the border, has the largest military in the world, has a one-party system and is led by a president that has already proven that he is tough/ruthless enough to get that job done. He also may stay in power as long as he wants.

        In 2019, China had the largest active-duty military force in the world, with about 2.18 million active military personnel.

  10. SomeDAM Poet says:

    “The Washington Post failed to tell the truth (aka, lied) about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

    Fixed their title for them.

    • SomeDAM Poet says:

      I guess that should be “The government AND the Washington Post failed to tell the truth…”

    • SomeDAM Poet says:

      Are we really to believe that the Washington Post knew nothing of the lying before this late date?

      I for one don’t believe it, but let us suppose it is actually the case.

      What would that say about the Post as a newspaper that it took them 18 years to figure out what many people knew long ago?

      • Have you heard about Operation Mockingbird? I have never read that it was ended.

      • dienne77 says:

        “Are we really to believe that the Washington Post knew nothing of the lying before this late date?”

        I knew at the time and I’m just a schmuck with an internet connection, not a major media outlet with investigative reporters and journalists. This is why it is so easy for Trump to exploit the “fake news” meme. The media have brought it on themselves.

      • SomeDAM Poet says:

        Investorgative journalism at its best, with Jeff Bezos the lastest (public) investor (along with silent partners.)

  11. democracy says:

    As The Post article pointed out,

    “The documents were generated by a federal project examining the root failures of the longest armed conflict in U.S. history. They include more than 2,000 pages of previously unpublished notes of interviews with people who played a direct role in the war, from generals and diplomats to aid workers and Afghan officials”

    “The U.S. government tried to shield the identities of the vast majority of those interviewed for the project and conceal nearly all of their remarks. The Post won release of the documents under the Freedom of Information Act after a three-year legal battle…Under the Freedom of Information Act, The Post began seeking Lessons Learned interview records in August 2016. SIGAR refused, arguing that the documents were privileged and that the public had no right to see them…The Post had to sue SIGAR in federal court — twice — to compel it to release the documents.”

    So, it’s one thing to THNK that the war in Afghanistan was going badly. Many people thought that. It’s a different thing to actually DOCUMENT that the war was going badly, and that’s what The Post article did.

    There is likely more to come:

    “The Post has asked a federal judge to force SIGAR to disclose the names of everyone else interviewed, arguing that the public has a right to know which officials criticized the war and asserted that the government had misled the American people. The Post also argued the officials were not whistleblowers or informants, because they were not interviewed as part of an investigation…A decision by Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the U.S. District Court in Washington has been pending since late September.”

    Still, the whole sordid affair cam be summed up like this:

    “Since 2001, more than 775,000 U.S. troops have deployed to Afghanistan, many repeatedly. Of those, 2,300 died there and 20,589 were wounded in action…The U.S. government has not carried out a comprehensive accounting of how much it has spent on the war in Afghanistan, but the costs are staggering… Rumsfeld received a string of unusually dire warnings from the war zone in 2006…Yet with Rumsfeld’s personal blessing, the Pentagon buried the bleak warnings and told the public a very different story…the government routinely touted statistics that officials knew were distorted, spurious or downright false.”

    We’ve spent at LEAST a trillion dollars in Afghanistan. Probably more. And that does not count the human costs, or the drain on the military’s personnel and materials.

    Some things seem not to change. From the Post article:

    “…in the field, U.S. troops often couldn’t tell friend from foe.”

    “the United States flooded the fragile country with far more aid than it could possibly absorb.

    “The gusher of aid that Washington spent on Afghanistan also gave rise to historic levels of corruption.”

    “as U.S. hopes for the Afghan security forces failed to materialize, Afghanistan became the world’s leading source of a growing scourge: opium…The United States has spent about $9 billion to fight the problem over the past 18 years, but Afghan farmers are cultivating more opium poppies than ever. Last year, Afghanistan was responsible for 82 percent of global opium production, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.”

    “The specter of Vietnam has hovered over Afghanistan from the start.”

    Now, let’s be clear here. This did NOT have to happen. If the intent was to dislocate and destroy al Qaeda training bases in Afghanistan, that could have been done WITHOUT 18 years of military presence and fighting there. Then again, 9/11 did NOT have to happen, but the George W. Bush administration was focused on supply-side tax cuts in the summer of 2011 and there was no attention paid to dire warnings of imminent terrorist threats.

    A recap:

    The Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) of August 6, 2001 was titled “Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US” and warned that Bin Ladin was “determined…to conduct terrorist attacks in the US,” that he “prepares years in advance and is not deterred by setbacks.” The memo noted “patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks,” and it warned that a group of “Bin Ladin’s supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives.”

    The Bushies did nothing.

    After 9/11, they tried to cover up their gross negligence. The 9/11 Commission Report helped to uncover it.

    Condoleezza Rice was George W. Bush’s national security director before 9/11 occurred and during the launching of the war in Iraq, which she favored and supported. Rice helped to sell the American public the big lie of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, warning infamously that “ we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” Journalists who covered her reported that she “made public claims that she knew to be false.”

    Lots of people KNEW it was all a lie. The war in Iraq still happened. And it’s cost a ton, in money, in American and Iraqi lives lost and in wounded persons, in the unsettling of the Middle East, in America’s reputation….the list goes on.

    Oh, and what ever happened to Condoleezza Rice? She now serves on corporate boards, opines on education reform (dear god), and — according to the Stanford Graduate School of Business – she “is currently the Denning Professor in Global Business and the Economy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business; the Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution; and a professor of Political Science at Stanford University. She is also a founding partner of RiceHadleyGates, LLC.”

    Nice work it you can get it, right?

    Meanwhile, here’s Condi at work, back in the day:

    • Clarity says:

      RiceHadlyGates… tells MORE about Rice…

      Guess we should question our use of DROPbox. AND question Boys & Girls Club memberships!… read on…

      “Rice currently serves on the board of Dropbox, an online-storage technology company, C3, an energy software company, and Makena Capital, a private endowment firm. In addition, she is a member of the boards of the George W. Bush Institute, the Commonwealth Club, the Aspen Institute, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Previously, Rice served on various additional boards, including: KiOR, Inc.; the Chevron Corporation; the Charles Schwab Corporation; the Transamerica Corporation; the Hewlett-Packard Company; the University of Notre Dame; the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; and, the San Francisco Symphony Board of Governors.”

      “In 1991, Rice cofounded the Center for a New Generation (CNG), an innovative, after-school academic enrichment program for students in East Palo Alto and East Menlo Park, California. In 1996, CNG merged with the Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula (an affiliate club of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America). CNG has since expanded to local BGCA chapters in Birmingham, Atlanta, and Dallas. She remains an active proponent of an extended learning day through after school programs.”

      The Atlanta B& G Club, and perhaps others under Rice affiliates, require copies of kids birth certificates and they request consent to conduct multiple annual assessments on kids, eternally retain the data and share it with their affiliates.

      “By initialing below, you indicate that you are the parent or guardian of the person named in this membership application
      and that you give your consent to and give authorization for your child to participate in Member Assessments used by the
      Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta, Department of Human Services and their subsidiaries, and affiliates. These
      assessments may include your household information, your child’s grades, demographics and/or survey information:

      The assessments will be administered 2-3 times over the school year in supervised groups at the Club. These assessments
      with Club members include, but are not limited to: confidential surveys on the outcome areas, reading and math
      assessments, and physical fitness assessments. We also collect demographic information and school report cards through
      the membership process. We hope you will allow your child to participate. As you consider doing so, we want you to
      know several things about BGCMA’s assessments and about your rights as a parent or guardian:
       Your son/daughter’s participation in the assessments is entirely voluntary. You must give your permission for her
      or him to participate. Your son or daughter must also agree to participate. If you do not give your permission, or if
      he/she decides not to participate, there will be no penalty or consequences for anyone involved.
       The purpose of the assessments is to satisfy reporting requirements to our community partners, to better
      understand positive youth development, and to create better programs—the information is not used for any other
      purpose. There are no right or wrong answers in the outcome surveys (questions are about feelings, opinions, and
       There are no known discomforts or hazards associated with participation—only assessments & surveys are
       Copies of the assessments are available if you would like to review any of the questions being asked. To do so
      you must inform the Executive Director of your Club.”

      Click to access 2019-20-Membership-Application_English_6.27.19.pdf

    • Bob Shepherd says:

      Being an ex war criminal is quite lucrative in these United States!

  12. democracy says:

    A few excerpts from Part 2 of The Post’s Afghanistan report:

    “In the beginning, the rationale for invading Afghanistan was clear: to destroy al-Qaeda, topple the Taliban and prevent a repeat of the 9/11 terrorist attacks…Within six months, the United States had largely accomplished what it set out to do. The leaders of al-Qaeda and the Taliban were dead, captured or in hiding…But then the U.S. government committed a fundamental mistake it would repeat again and again over the next 17 years…U.S. and allied officials veered off in directions that had little to do with al-Qaeda or 9/11. By expanding the original mission, they adopted fatally flawed warfighting strategies based on misguided assumptions about a country they did not understand.”

    “Lulled into overconfidence by the apparent ease of conquering Afghanistan, the Bush administration refused to sit down with defeated Taliban leaders to negotiate a lasting peace — a decision U.S. officials would later regret…The Taliban was excluded from international conferences and Afghan gatherings from 2001 to 2003 that drew up a new government, even though some Taliban figures had shown a willingness to join in. Instead, the United States posted bounties for their capture and sent hundreds to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba…by refusing to talk to the Taliban, the Bush administration may have blown a chance to end the war shortly after it started…On May 1, 2003, while standing under a “Mission Accomplished” banner on an aircraft carrier, Bush declared an end to “major combat operations” in Iraq…On the very same day, Rumsfeld visited Kabul and announced an end to “major combat activity” in Afghanistan…”

    “Both declarations backfired spectacularly. Iraq descended into civil war. Meanwhile, as the U.S. government fixated on Iraq, the Taliban steadily regrouped.”

  13. Chuck Jordan says:

    We got into Afghanistan to get the Russians out. Then the Taliban used the weapons we gave them to fight us. Funny hunh. Read Charlie Wilson’s War and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Just for fun. Then read Afghanistan by Thomas Barfield. And while you’re going, read All the Shah’s Men by Steven Kinzer. I heard someone on NPR the other day talk about how our problems with Iran started with the taking of hostages in Tehran. Nope.

  14. Stephen McCallister says:

    You mean that you are just now figuring that out? When the first tour of duties were complete there were soldiers coming home saying that they did nothing except guard poppy fields while over there. Funny how afganistan went from from last producer in the world of herion to the first only after the US invaded. Also no one wants to mention who received the harvest and the connection to the current opiod epidemic? Big Pharma ….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: