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Exclusive: how US lied about the war in Afghanistan

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — A compilation of classified government documents that were in the possession of the Washington Post shows that senior US officials did not tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan for the 18 years that the military campaign in that country went on, making false optimistic statements and hiding indisputable evidence that that it’s impossible to win in this war.

These documents were compiled as part of a federal project to study the causes of failures in the longest-running armed conflict in US history. Among these documents are more than 2 thousand unpublished recordings of interviews with those who directly participated in the war and made decisions, from generals and diplomats to humanitarian workers and Afghan officials.

The US government tried to hide the names of the vast majority of those whom experts interviewed as part of this project, as well as almost all of their comments. The Washington Post has secured access to these documents under the Freedom of Information Act after a three-year trial.

In an interview with more than 400 insiders, they harshly criticized everything that happened in Afghanistan and how the United States got bogged down in the war for almost 20 years.

With directness, which is rarely seen in public statements, these interviews openly state all the accumulated complaints, disappointments and confessions, as well as speculation and slander.

“We were deprived of a general idea of ​​what was happening in Afghanistan, we didn’t know what we were doing there,” said Douglas Lute, a US Army lieutenant general in charge of conducting the military, told government experts in 2015 operations in Afghanistan under the Bush and Obama administrations. He added: “What are we trying to do there? We had no idea what we were doing there.”

“If only the American people knew about the scale of functional problems … We lost 2,400 people,” Lute said, blaming the deaths of American troops on the inability of Congress, the Pentagon and the Department of State to coordinate their actions. “Who will say that everything was in vain?”

Since 2001, more than 775,000 US troops have been deployed to Afghanistan, many of which have been there several times. According to documents of the Ministry of Defense, 2300 thousand of them were killed, and another 20 589 were injured during the fighting.

Interviews that were taken from a wide variety of people demonstrate the key mistakes of the United States in the war, which continues to this day. Witness stories indicate that the three presidents — George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump — and their warlords failed to deliver on their promises and triumph in Afghanistan.

As many U.S. officials were interviewed, confident that their remarks would never be made public, they openly admitted that U.S. war plans in Afghanistan contained fatal flaws and that Washington wasted huge amounts of money trying to turn that country to the modern state.

These interviews also highlight the stupid efforts of the US government to tackle widespread corruption, create a competent Afghan army and police force, and tackle the thriving opium trade in Afghanistan.

The US government did not make exhaustive estimates of exactly how much money was spent on the war in Afghanistan, but the magnitude of the costs is astounding.

Since 2001, the Department of Defense, the Department of State and the United States Agency for International Development have spent or earmarked approximately $ 934-978 billion, according to Neta Crawford, a professor of political science and co-director of the Costs of War project at Brown University.

This amount did not include the expenses of other US agencies, such as the CIA or the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is responsible for the medical care of veterans who were injured during the fighting.

“What did we get by spending nearly $ 1 trillion?” Was it worth $ 1 trillion? Said Jeffrey Eggers, a former Marine who worked at the White House under the Bush and Obama administrations. “After the assassination of Osama bin Laden – I said that Osama must be laughing at us, lying in his underwater grave and looking at how much money we spent on Afghanistan.”

These documents also contradict the sheer number of public statements made by American presidents, military leaders and diplomats, who, year after year, assured the Americans that they were making progress in Afghanistan and that this war really needed to be continued.

Some of those interviewed by experts described open and consistent attempts by the US government to deliberately mislead the public. The U.S. military command in Kabul and the White House often distorted statistics in order to give the public the impression that the United States was gaining the upper hand in the war, although in reality it was not.

“Each unit of data was changed so that the overall picture looked as good as possible,” said Bob Crowley, a colonel in the U.S. Armed Forces who served as senior adviser to the U.S. military command in 2013 and 2014, during his interview. “For example, the research results were completely unreliable, but they indicated that all our actions in Afghanistan were correct, and that things were going fine with us.”

The US General Inspector for Afghanistan’s reconstruction, John Sopko, whose agency conducted these interviews, admitted in an interview with the Washington Post that these secret documents show that “the American people were constantly lied to.”

These interviews were a byproduct of a project implemented by Sopko, the Office of the Inspector General of Afghanistan’s Afghanistan Recovery (SIGAR). This agency was created by Congress in 2008 to investigate the facts of embezzlement and fraud in the war zone.

In 2014, SIGAR somewhat deviated from its usual mission of conducting audits and initiated a new project. This 11 millionth project, dubbed Lessons Learned, was designed to establish exactly what the United States made mistakes in Afghanistan so that America wouldn’t repeat these mistakes the next time it decided to invade any country or try to restore any destroyed state.

Employees of the Lessons Learned project interviewed more than 600 insiders who were personally direct participants in the war in Afghanistan. Most of these people were Americans, but SIGAR analysts also traveled to London, Brussels and Berlin to interview America’s NATO allies. In addition, they talked with 20 Afghan officials to discuss reconstruction and development programs with them.

Based on these interviews, as well as other government documents and statistics, SIGAR analysts have published seven Lessons Learned reports since 2016 that detail problems encountered in Afghanistan and provide recommendations for stabilizing the country.

However, these reports, which were written in a dry, bureaucratic language and centered on a long list of government initiatives, did not include the most harsh and outspoken criticism made by people who gave interviews.

“We found that the stabilization strategy and the programs that were used to achieve it did not take into account the specifics of the Afghan context, and successes in stabilizing individual Afghan provinces persisted only while there was a military contingent of the coalition,” the introduction of one of these reports says. published in May 2018.

In addition, more than 90% of the people who gave interviews for this project were not named in these reports. Although several officials nevertheless agreed to talk about everything on record, SIGAR promised everyone else anonymity in order to avoid disagreement.

The Washington Post began trying to access Lessons Learned in 2016, citing U.S. law on free access to information. Then the SIGAR agency refused the newspaper, noting that these documents are not subject to disclosure and that the public does not have the right to read them.

The Washington Post had to appeal to the federal court – twice – to get these documents made public.

Ultimately, the agency published over 2,000 pages of previously unpublished documents and transcripts of 428 interviews, as well as several audio recordings.

These documents cited the names of 66 people who gave interviews to analysts, but SIGAR hid the names of another 366 people. The agency insists that these people should be considered as whistleblowers and informants who may face humiliation, threats, retaliatory measures and attempts to inflict physical harm on them if their names become known.

After analyzing the dates and other details taken from the documents, the Washington Post managed to identify the names of 33 interviewees, including several former White House ambassadors, generals and officials.

The Washington Post asked a federal judge to force SIGAR to disclose the names of all those interviewed, insisting that the public have the right to know which officials criticized the war in Afghanistan and claimed that the US government was misleading the public. The Washington Post also insisted that these officials should not be regarded as whistleblowers or informants because interviews with them were not part of an official investigation.

The newspaper has been awaiting the decision of Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the District Court in Washington since late September.

But the Washington Post decided to publish these documents now, without waiting for a final court decision, to inform the American public that the Trump administration is negotiating with the Taliban and is considering the withdrawal of those 13 thousand US troops who are still in Afghanistan.

Newspaper reporters tried to contact those who gave interviews and whose names they already know. The answers of these people are collected in another article of the publication.

Inspector General Sopko told the newspaper that he was not trying to hide the harsh criticism and doubts about the war in Afghanistan, which American officials expressed during their interviews for Lessons Learned. According to him, it took his agency three years to publish these notes, because there were few employees in his office and because other federal agencies had to check these documents in order to prevent the disclosure of state secrets.

“We did not wait for the right moment,” said Sopko. – We sincerely believe in the principles of openness and transparency, but we had to abide by the law. “I think that of all the inspectors general, I was the most open in terms of information.”

The recordings of the interview are still unedited, and the employees of the Lessons Learned project have not yet put all these notes in a single story. However, these interviews contain a lot of harsh judgments from people who developed and implemented US policy in Afghanistan.

“We are not invading poor countries to make them richer,” said James Dobbins, a former senior US diplomat who served as special representative in Afghanistan under the Bush and Obama administrations. – We also do not invade authoritarian countries to make them democratic. “We are invading violent countries to make peace there, and we have clearly failed in Afghanistan.”

To complement the interviews with the Lessons Learned project, the Washington Post used hundreds of pages of previously classified Afghanistan War Office memos dictated by Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld from 2001 to 2006.

These memos, which Rumsfeld and his subordinates called “snowflakes,” are brief instructions or comments that the Pentagon head dictated to his subordinates, sometimes several times a day.

Rumsfeld published part of these “snowflakes” in 2011 in connection with the publication of his memoir entitled “Known and Unknown”. However, most of these “snowflakes” – according to some estimates, this is about 59 thousand pages – remained classified.

In 2017, in response to a lawsuit filed by the nonprofit research institute National Security Archive at George Washington University, the U.S. Department of Defense began to analyze and regularly publish the remaining Rumsfeld memos. The National Security Archive shared these documents with the Washington Post.

Taken together, SIGAR’s interviews and Rumsfeld’s memos on Afghanistan represent a secret war story and a merciless assessment of the 18 years of this conflict.

Many of these memos, written in a sharp Rumsfeld-like manner, were a harbinger of the problems that the U.S. military continues to pursue to this day.

“Maybe I’m impatient. In fact, I know that I’m impatient, ”Rumsfeld wrote to several generals and senior advisers. “We will not withdraw the US military from Afghanistan until we are convinced that certain processes have begun that will ensure the stability necessary for our departure.”

“Help!” He wrote.

This memo is dated April 17, 2002 – that is, it was drawn up six months after the outbreak of war.

Public statements:

“The history of the military conflict in Afghanistan is a history of initial success, followed by many years of failure and a final collapse. We will not repeat this mistake, ”President George W. Bush said in a speech at the Virginia Military Institute on April 17, 2002.

Thanks to overt descriptions of how the United States got bogged down in a war in a distant land and how emphatically the government tried to hide facts from the public, the interviews gathered under the Lessons Learned project broadly resemble the so-called Pentagon Papers, a top-secret history of the Vietnam War, drawn up by the Ministry of Defense.

When the Pentagon Papers fell into the hands of the press in 1971, they caused a sensation as they demonstrated that the US government has long misled the public about how exactly the US got bogged down in that war.

The results of the study, dubbed the “Pentagon Documents,” were described on 7,000 pages in 47 volumes, and were based solely on the content of internal government documents — diplomatic dispatches, management memos, and intelligence reports. To keep these materials secret, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara issued an order forbidding the authors of the study to interview anyone.

The authors of the SIGAR project called Lessons Learned did not encounter such restrictions. Project analysts conducted interviews from 2014 to 2018, mainly with officials who worked during the Bush and Obama administrations.

About 30 interviews were completely transcribed, word for word. The remaining conversations were presented in the form of brief reports on the content of the conversations: a lot of pages of notes and quotes of statements of various people, from military men who served at provincial outposts to representatives of the highest echelons of power.

Some interviews were inexplicably short. The recording of an interview with John Allen, the Marine Corps general who commanded the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan from 2011 to 2013, consists of only five paragraphs.

Meanwhile, interviews with other influential figures were much longer. Former U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker has given two interviews to analysts, and their transcripts span 95 pages.

Unlike the Pentagon Documents, not one of the documents collected by the Lessons Learned project was classified from the very beginning. However, as soon as the Washington Post wanted to publish these materials, other federal agencies immediately intervened and classified some of the materials ex-post.

For example, the Department of State said that publishing some excerpts from an interview could jeopardize the success of negotiations with the Taliban to end the war. The US Department of Defense and the Drug Enforcement Administration have also classified some of the materials.

The Lessons Learned interview contains quite a bit of new information regarding military operations. However, they contain a real avalanche of criticism, which refutes the official version of the events, from the very first days of the war until the arrival of the Trump administration.

For example, at the very beginning, the United States invasion of Afghanistan had a clear stated goal – to take revenge on al-Qaeda (a terrorist group banned in the Russian Federation – ed.) And to prevent the recurrence of the September 11 attacks.

However, interviews show that over time and as the war progressed, goals and objectives changed, and inside the Pentagon, the White House, and the State Department, the lack of faith in American strategy was rooted deeper.

Fundamental disagreements remained unresolved. Some US officials wanted to use this war to turn Afghanistan into a democracy. Others wanted to transform Afghan culture and empower women. Still others sought to change the balance of power in the region – the balance of power between Pakistan, India, Iran and Russia.

“Thanks to AfPak’s strategy, anyone could find a present under the Christmas tree,” said one US government official, whose name was not given, in 2015. “By the time you were finishing, you already had so many priorities and aspirations that there could be no talk of any strategy.”

Lessons Learned interviews also show how difficult it was for the US military command to formulate exactly who they were fighting, not to mention why.

Was Al Qaeda or the Taliban the enemy (terrorist organizations banned in the Russian Federation – approx. Ed.)? Was Pakistan a friend or foe? What about the Islamic State (a terrorist organization banned in the Russian Federation – ed.) And the discouraging diversity of foreign jihadists, not to mention the field commanders who received support from the CIA? According to these documents, the US government did not answer these questions.

As a result, the US military was often unable to distinguish friends from enemies on the battlefield.

“They thought that I would come to them with a map and show where the good guys are and where the bad guys are,” said one former special forces adviser in 2017. “It took a few conversations so that they understood that I did not have this information.” At first they constantly asked: so who are the bad guys here, and where are they?”

The Pentagon also could not give a clear answer.

“I have no idea who the bad guys are here,” Rumsfeld complained in his memo on September 8, 203. “We are sorely lacking in intelligence.”

Public statements:

“The times when we provided carte blanche have passed <…> It should be clear to everyone that the Afghans will have to take responsibility for their own security and that America is not interested in waging an endless war in Afghanistan,” President Barack Obama said during a speech in West Point Military Academy December 1, 2009.

As commanders of the US Armed Forces, Bush, Obama and Trump promised the same thing to the American public. They will not fall into the trap of “national construction” in Afghanistan.

In this sense, all three presidents failed miserably. The United States has allocated more than $ 133 billion to rebuild Afghanistan – adjusted for inflation, this is more than America spent after World War II to rebuild all of Western Europe in accordance with the Marshall Plan.

Lessons Learned interviews show that the grandiose national building project was imperfect from the start.

US officials tried to create a democratic government in Kabul, from scratch, modeled on their own government in Washington. This was a completely alien concept for Afghans accustomed to tribalism, monarchism, communism and Islamic law.

“Our policy was to create a strong central government, which was utter nonsense because Afghanistan has no history of a strong central government,” said one former State Department official, whose name is not named, in 2015. “The period for which you can create a strong central government is about 100 years, which we simply do not have.”

Meanwhile, the United States delivered much more help to this fragile country than it could accept.

At the peak of hostilities, from 2009 to 2012, US congressmen and the military leadership believed that the more money they spend on schools, bridges, canals and other social projects, the faster the security situation will improve. Humanitarian workers told analysts that this turned out to be a colossal mistake – as if kerosene was poured into a dying bonfire just so that the flame did not go out.

One official of the US Agency for International Development, whose name was not given, believes that 90% of the funds spent were simply superfluous. “We have lost objectivity. They gave us money, they said that we should spend it, and we spent it without much thought. ”

Many humanitarian workers blamed Congress for what seemed like a mindless desire to spend money.

One such employee, whose name was not given, told analysts that he was required to spend $ 3 million daily on projects in just one area of ​​Afghanistan, which roughly corresponded to the size of the US district. One day he asked a congressman who arrived that he could responsibly spend such an amount of money in his own country in America: “He answered:“ Of course not. ”“ So, sir, that’s how much you obligated us to spend, and I do it for those people who live in dugouts in which there are not even windows. ”

The incredible amount of money that Washington spent on Afghanistan led to an unprecedented increase in corruption.

In public, American officials claimed that they would not tolerate corruption. However, in their interviews for the Lessons Learned project, they admitted that the US government turned a blind eye to how Afghan influential forces – Washington’s allies – plundered these funds with absolute impunity.

US Army Colonel Christopher Kolenda, who visited Afghanistan several times and who advised the three American generals in charge of the war, said that by 2006, the Afghan government, led by President Hamid Karzai, had “organized itself into kleptocracy” and that American officials could not discern what a serious threat this turned out to be for their strategy.

“I like the analogy with cancer,” Kolenda said in an interview. – Domestic corruption is like skin cancer. There are treatments and, most likely, you will be fine. Corruption within ministries, that is, at a higher level, is like intestinal cancer. This is worse, but if you make the diagnosis on time, everything will probably be all right with you. But kleptocracy is like brain cancer, and it is deadly. ”

According to US officials, by allowing corruption to flourish, they helped destroy the legitimacy of the fragile Afghan government they were trying to support. As judges, police, and officials continued to extort bribes, many Afghans became disillusioned with the idea of ​​democracy and turned to the Taliban to restore order.

“Unfortunately, our biggest project was that, inadvertently, we may have spawned mass corruption,” said Crocker, who was an American diplomat in Kabul in 2002 and then in 2011 and 2012. “As soon as it reaches the level that I saw, correcting the situation becomes incredibly difficult or even completely impossible.”

Public statements:

“This army and these police forces daily demonstrate their very high effectiveness in the fight against rebels. I think it is very important that this is known outside of Afghanistan, ”said US Armed Forces Lieutenant General Mark A. Milley, praising the work of the Afghan security services, during a press conference in Kabul on September 4, 2013. . Millie is currently Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Year after year, American generals stated in public that they were making steady progress on the main point of their strategy, that is, in training a strong Afghan army and national police force that could defend their country without the help of foreign states.

However, in an interview with the Lessons Learned project, US military instructors called Afghan security services incompetent, unmotivated, and teeming with potential deserters. They also accused the Afghan commanders of appropriating salaries – paid for by American taxpayers – of tens of thousands of “ghost soldiers.”

None of them expressed confidence that someday the Afghan army and police will be able to independently fight back or defeat the Taliban. During the war, killed more than 60 thousand employees of the Afghan security services – the American military leadership called this level of losses unbearable.
One American soldier, whose name was not given, said that the special forces “hated” the Afghan police, which they trained and with whom they had to work, calling it “terrible – the deepest bottom in the country, which is already at the bottom” .

One US Army officer estimates that one-third of the recruits in the Afghan police were “either drug addicts or the Taliban.” Another called them “stealing idiots” because they constantly stole so much fuel from American bases that they constantly smelled of gasoline.

“To believe that we can build a good army so quickly was crazy,” said a senior USAID official whose name was not given.

Meanwhile, while US hopes for Afghan security services were crumbling, Afghanistan was turning into the world’s largest opium supplier.

Over the past 18 years, the United States has spent about $ 9 billion to tackle this problem, but today Afghan farmers grow a record number of opium poppies. Last year, Afghanistan accounted for 82% of global opium production, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

In the course of their interviews, former officials said that almost all of their attempts to somehow cope with the production of opium led to the opposite result.

“We have stated that our goal is to create a thriving market economy,” said Douglas Lute. “I think we should clarify that we had in mind the thriving drug trade – this is the only sector of the market that is currently operating.”

From the very beginning, Washington could not decide how to combine its fight against drugs and the war against al-Qaeda. By 2006, US officials were already worried that drug traffickers had become stronger than the Afghan government and that the proceeds of the drug trade went to the needs of the rebels.

From the very beginning of the war, not a single agency, not a single country was directly responsible for the strategy for combating drug trafficking in Afghanistan, so the Department of State, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the U.S. armed forces, NATO allies and the Afghan government have been constantly arguing about this.

“There was a complete mess, and there was no chance that something would work,” said a former senior British official whose name was not given.

These agencies and allies only exacerbated the situation, plunging into the implementation of ill-conceived programs, doomed to failure.

At first, the British paid Afghan farmers to destroy their poppy crops, but this convinced the farmers to plant more poppies next season. The U.S. government later destroyed poppy fields without compensation, which infuriated farmers and forced them to switch to the Taliban.

“It was sad to see how many people behave very stupidly,” one US official said in an interview with the Lessons Learned project.

Public statements:

“Are we losing in this war?” Absolutely not. Can the enemy win her? Absolutely not, ”said Major General Jeffrey Schloesser, commander of the 101st Airborne Division, during a press conference on September 8, 2008.

From the very beginning, the shadow of Vietnam hung over the US military campaign in Afghanistan.

On October 11, 2001, a few days after the United States began bombing the Taliban, one reporter asked Bush: “Can you prevent the US from being drawn into a quagmire like Vietnam in Afghanistan?”

“We have learned some important lessons in Vietnam,” Bush answered confidently. “They often ask me how long this will last.” This particular battle will last exactly until we hold Al Qaeda accountable. It can happen tomorrow, it can happen in a month, it may take a year or two. But we will win. ”

At that moment, US leaders laughed at those who warned that Vietnam’s nightmare could happen again in Afghanistan.

“And now, all together is a quagmire!” Rumsfeld joked during a November 27, 2001 press conference.

However, many documents drawn up during the Afghan war prove that US military officials again resorted to the old tactics left over from the Vietnam War – to manipulate public opinion.

At press conferences and other public speeches, those responsible for the war in Afghanistan made the same statements over the course of 18 years. No matter how the war went, especially in difficult times, they emphasized that they were making progress.

For example, several Rumsfeld memos that fell into his memoirs prove that in 2006 he received a series of unusually serious warnings from the war zone.

Returning from Afghanistan to clear out the situation, Barry McCaffrey, a retired US general, announced the Taliban’s impressive return and warned that “we’ll be faced with some very unpleasant surprises in the next two years.”

“The Afghan national leadership is terrified that we can gradually leave Afghanistan in the next few years – leaving NATO with nothing – and that everything will slide into chaos again,” McCaffrey wrote in June 2006.

Two months later, Marin Strmecki, Rumsfeld’s civilian adviser, provided the Pentagon’s secret with a 40-page secret report that included a lot of bad news. It spoke of the rapid growth of discontent among the people by the actions of the Afghan government because of its corruption and incompetence. It also spoke of the growing influence of the Taliban, which received support from Pakistan, a US ally.

However, on the personal instructions of Rumsfeld, the Pentagon ignored these gloomy forecasts and told the American public a completely different story.

In October 2006, Rumsfeld speechwriters drafted a document entitled Afghanistan: Five Years Later. This optimistic document cited more than 50 promising facts and figures, from the number of Afghan women trained in “advanced bird keeping methods” (over 19,000) to “average speed on most roads” (it grew by 300%).

“Now that five years have passed, a lot of good news has appeared,” the report said. “Although in some circles it has become fashionable to call Afghanistan a forgotten war and say that the United States has lost focus, facts refute these myths.”

Rumsfeld decided this was a brilliant report.

“This is a great report,” he wrote in one of his memos. – How do we use it? Do I need to publish an article? Editorial column? To make an official press statement? Do all of the above? I think we need to communicate this to as many people as possible.”

And his subordinates tried to do it. They handed over copies to reporters and posted this report on all Pentagon websites.

From that moment, American generals invariably repeated that the war was going well – regardless of the real situation.

“We are making steady progress,” said Major General Jeffrey Schloesser, the commander of the 101st Airborne Division, during a press conference on September 8, 2008, although he and other US commanders in Kabul requested as much as possible rather, send them reinforcements so that they can deal with the growing wave of Taliban fighters.

Two years later, when casualties among US and NATO forces reached a new maximum, US Army Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez held another press conference in Kabul.

“First, we are confidently making steady progress,” he said.

In March 2011, during congressional hearings, skeptical congressmen expressed to General David H. Petraeus, the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, a lot of doubts about the effectiveness of the American strategy.

“Over the past eight months, we have made important progress in a difficult struggle,” Petraeus answered.

A year later, during his visit to Afghanistan, Defense Minister Leon Panetta decided to use the same scenario – despite the fact that he personally barely escaped a suicide bombing attack.

“As I noted earlier, this campaign, from my point of view, allowed us to make significant progress,” Panetta told reporters.

In July 2016, after a spike in the number of Taliban attacks in large cities, US General General John W. Nicholson, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, repeated this refrain.

“We are seeing some progress,” he told reporters.

Public statements:

“Moving forward, we will not blindly follow the established course. Instead, we will set clear benchmarks for measuring progress and will be responsible for our actions, ”Obama said March 27, 2009.

During the Vietnam War, the American military leadership relied on rather dubious indicators to convince the American public that the United States was winning.

In particular, the Pentagon emphasized the number of enemy fighters killed, positioning these numbers as a measure of its success.

In Afghanistan, the American military leadership tried – with a few exceptions – not to disclose the casualties. However, during an interview with the Lessons Learned project, it turned out that the government regularly promoted data that officials knew was distorted, fabricated, or openly false.

One senior official of the National Security Council, whose name is not named, said that the Obama White House and the Pentagon were constantly demanding to provide them with numbers that would prove that the increase in the number of contingents from 2009 to 2011 brought positive results, despite a lot of evidence to the contrary.

“It was simply impossible to provide positive indicators. We tried to focus on the number of military personnel trained, the level of violence, and control over territories, but none of these indicators gave an accurate picture, ”this senior official of the National Security Council said during his interview in 2016. “These indicators were constantly manipulated throughout the war.”

Even when the loss indicators and other indicators looked very bad, according to this official, the White House and the Pentagon used them in an absolutely absurd way. For example, suicide bombings in Kabul were positioned as a sign of the despair of the Taliban, as a sign that the Taliban were too weak to engage in direct combat. Meanwhile, the increase in the number of casualties among the US military was positioned as evidence that American forces were effectively fighting the enemy.

“That’s how they explained everything,” the official said. – For example, attacks are becoming more aggressive? “Is it because there are more targets that they can shoot at, so the number of attacks is a false indicator of instability.” Then, after three months, the attacks become even more aggressive? “Is it because the Taliban are desperate, so actually an indication that we are winning.”

“This went on for two reasons,” the official continued. “It was necessary to present all the participants in a positive light, and it was necessary to create the impression that the presence of the military and the invested resources bring positive results, while the withdrawal of the military would lead to the collapse of the country.”

In other reports from places that went upstairs, US military officers and diplomats adhered to the same line. Regardless of the circumstances on the ground, they stated that they had made progress.

“Starting from ambassadors and below, everyone has insisted that we do our job well,” said Michael Flynn, a retired US General, during an interview. – Really? If we cope with the tasks so wonderfully, why then it seems that we are losing?”

Upon arrival in Afghanistan, the commanders of the brigades and battalions of the US Armed Forces received the same task: to protect civilians and defeat the enemy, said Flynn, who was several times in Afghanistan as an intelligence officer.

“Therefore, all of them, traveling to Afghanistan for an appropriate period of nine or six months, received this task, accepted this mission and tried to carry it out,” explained Flynn, who later became Trump’s national security adviser for some time, then lost this the position was a scandal and was found guilty of false testimony to FBI agents. “And then they all said, when they left Afghanistan, that they fulfilled their mission.” All commanders to one. Not a single commander leaving Afghanistan will ever say: “You know, we have not fulfilled our mission.”

Flynn added: “Every next commander who came there saw a mess reigning there and said:“ This is a real nightmare.”

Bob Crowley, a retired colonel in the US Armed Forces who served as an adviser in Afghanistan in 2013 and 2014, said in an interview that “the truth was rarely welcomed” at the headquarters of the armed forces in Kabul.

“Bad news was often hushed up,” he said. “We reported bad news more easily if they were insignificant – for example, that we crushed children with armored vehicles – because this could be corrected by issuing relevant directives.” But when we tried to report on wider strategic problems regarding the desire, opportunities and corruption of the Afghan government, it became obvious that no one was happy about this.”

John Garofano of the U.S. Naval College, who advised Marines in Helmand, said military officials spent a lot of resources releasing newsletters that focused on positive results.

“They had an extremely expensive machine that printed large leaflets, like in printing centers,” Carofano said in an interview. “They should have warned that this is not really accurate data and there is no scientific analysis behind all this.”

But, according to Carofano, no one dared to doubt the reliability and richness of these graphs and figures.

“No one wanted to answer questions. What is the number of schools you built? How did this help you get closer to your goal? ”He continued. “How do you explain that this is evidence of success, not evidence of your efforts or efforts to do something good?”

Other senior officials said they attached great importance to one indicator – an indicator that the US government is often not prepared to discuss in public.

“I really think the key indicator is how many Afghans are dying,” said former American diplomat James Dobbin at a meeting of the Senate Commission in 2009. – If this number grows, you lose. If it goes down, you win. Everything is very simple”.

Last year, according to the UN, 3,804 civilians died in the Afghan war.

This is the highest figure since when the UN began to count the number of victims ten years ago.


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