US losing Afghan war for lack of clear objectives, says report

Updated 10 Dec 2019

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The confidential documents — obtained through lengthy litigation — reveal that top US officials misled the American public about the war in Afghanistan in order to conceal the likelihood of failure in the nearly 20-year effort. — AFP/File
The confidential documents — obtained through lengthy litigation — reveal that top US officials misled the American public about the war in Afghanistan in order to conceal the likelihood of failure in the nearly 20-year effort. — AFP/File

WASHINGTON: Hundreds of pages of official documents, obtained by The Washington Post, show that the United States is losing the war in Afghanistan because it never had clear objectives, says a report published on Monday.

“Some US officials wanted to use the war to turn Afghanistan into a democracy. Others wanted to transform Afghan culture and elevate women’s rights. Still others wanted to reshape the regional balance of power among Pakistan, India, Iran and Russia,” the Post observed.

The Post spent months investigating this report, which is based on 2,000 pages of unpublished documents, 600 interviews and thousands of previously classified memos dictated by former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The confidential documents — obtained through lengthy litigation — reveal that top US officials misled the American public about the war in Afghanistan in order to conceal the likelihood of failure in the nearly 20-year effort.

The documents also show how US military commanders struggled to define who they were fighting and why. The answered questions included: “Was Al Qaeda the enemy, or the Taliban? Was Pakistan a friend or an adversary? What about the Islamic State and the bewildering array of foreign jihadists, let alone the warlords on the CIA’s payroll?”

The 40-page report by Marin Strmecki, a civilian adviser to Mr Rumsfeld, identified corruption and incompetence as the main reasons or the “enormous popular discontent” against the Afghan government.

The documents were part of a lengthy government report titled “Lessons Learned” that examined “the root failures” of the war effort through interviews with more than 600 people.

The interviews show US officials acknowledging that “their warfighting strategies were fatally flawed, and that Washington wasted enormous sums of money — almost a trillion dollars — trying to remake Afghanistan into a modern nation”.

“Several of those interviewed described explicit and sustained efforts by the US government to deliberately mislead the public,” the Post reported. “They said it was common at military headquarters in Kabul — and at the White House — to distort statistics to make it appear the United States was winning the war when that was not the case.”

Douglas Lute, “a three-star army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar” under former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, told interviewers that “we were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing”. Mr Lute asked: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

Published in Dawn, December 10th, 2019