KABUL/WASHINGTON, D.C. – A confidential trove of government documents published by American media outlets reveals that senior US officials lied 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 US 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 They include more than 2,000 pages of previously unpublished notes of interviews with people who played a direct role in the war, from generals and diplomats to aid workers and Afghan officials.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 US government tried to shield the identities of the vast majority of those interviewed for the project and conceal nearly all of their remarks. In the interviews, more than 400 insiders have offered unrestrained criticism of what went wrong in Afghanistan and how the United States became mired in nearly two decades of warfare.
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 claims to prevail in Afghanistan.
But letting the Afghanistan war continue for so many years has been a terrible mistake. Roughly 2,400 US service members and 4,000 American contractors have been killed there, including four just over recent days.
The war in Afghanistan has become a multigenerational exercise in absurdity. Many of the soldiers now fighting and dying were infants when the war began. Yet almost two decades and more than a trillion dollars later, the US-backed Afghan government controls only 55 percent of the nation’s territory and 65 percent of its population.
One thing the world has learned is that American interventionism can create more failed states than it “liberates”. Such was the case in Iraq and Libya. The threat of “failing states” has been there all along. Instability does yield insecurity. The only thing that can ultimately guarantee the independence and self-determination of the Afghan people is an Afghan government that has its own independence and self-determination.
Even the most strident warmongers understand that the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable. Their alternative to withdrawal is to maintain an indefinite troop presence, akin to the permanent stationing of US troops in Germany and Japan after World War II. This is a ludicrous idea. America’s occupation won’t guarantee the security and prosperity of the war-torn country.
The political will to end the war in Afghanistan exists. One recent poll shows that fewer than half of Americans say the initial decision to use military force in Afghanistan was correct. Another new poll finds that a majority of Americans would support a decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, while only about one in five would oppose it.
The unwinnable war will go on for as long as Afghans themselves are resistant to US occupation. Washington and its NATO allies can dispatch a million troops in Afghanistan and it would only have a short-term effect on the security situation.
Afghanistan’s conflict will only end through political arrangements by the Afghans themselves. The sooner the US and company come around to that concept and finally end their occupation the sooner international money and resources can be invested to rebuild Afghanistan.