WASHINGTON — A confidential trove of documents obtained by Duffel Blog has revealed that many senior U.S. officials, including numerous general officers in the armed forces, have told the honest truth about the war in Afghanistan during America’s eighteen-year campaign there.
The revelations have come as a shock to many, especially to veterans of the long-running conflict, who long assumed that their leaders were blissfully unaware of how poorly the campaign was going.
The documents, provided by a senior Pentagon public affairs official, reveal that U.S. leaders were aware throughout the campaign that it had no clear strategic objective, was being executed poorly. They noted that little of what they were doing was improving the situation, and some even dared to say so in public.
Perhaps the most remarkable document, written by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld shortly after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, admitted that the War on Terror then beginning in Afghanistan would entail “sustained engagement that carries no deadlines” and that it would “produce no apparent victory.” He added, presciently, that civilians would play a key role in the conflict, although he did not predict that the majority of Americans killed in Afghanistan would be Department of Defense contractors, rather than military personnel, or that the U.S. would spend nearly a trillion dollars attempting to rebuild a country with a GDP of only about twenty billion dollars per year.
Perhaps more shocking, it appears that at least some senior military leaders frankly told the Obama Administration that the War in Afghanistan was a doomed effort that was unlikely to produce any significant results. Other leaders even expressed awareness that corruption hobbled the Afghan government and argued they were a terrible partner who could never hold ground against the Taliban without sustained American support. Many correctly identified that Pakistani instability was a greater threat to South Asian security than Afghan terrorism.
For more junior military personnel who are typically exposed to triumphant speeches about the need to “do more” following the same model senior leaders used in the past, the documents were remarkable.
“I always just assumed that the senior leadership were pretty stupid and like, didn’t know that the Afghan National Army were just a bunch of dope fiends,” said former Sgt. John Bales, who served in Afghanistan from 2006 to 2007 and again in 2009 to 2010. “Apparently they were aware of how bad things were and some of them even told the president and the American people. Amazing.”
John Porch, a scholar at the Center for Strategic Studies, said the pattern of candor was a significant break from American military history.
“In Vietnam, the generals were lying sometimes, but most of the time they were just really out of touch, which decreased the quality of political advice they gave to their political masters,” he says. “The fact that some of these senior guys in uniform, like Doug Lute for example, or Jeff Eggers, honestly told the president the war was a shitshow. That’s just unprecedented. They were a unique bunch.”