The Pentagon has denied intentionally misleading the public about the 18-year war in Afghanistan, after The Washington Post published a trove of government documents revealing that officials made overly optimistic pronouncements they knew to be false and hid evidence that the conflict had become un-winnable.
“There has been no intent by DoD to mislead Congress or the public,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Thomas Campbell wrote to VOA on Monday.
“The information contained in the interviews was provided to SIGAR (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction) for the express purpose of inclusion in SIGAR’s public reports,” he added.
The Post said the documents contain more than 400 interviews with senior military and government insiders who offered unrestrained criticism of what went wrong in Afghanistan and how the United States became mired in nearly two decades of war.
According to the Post, U.S. officials, most of whom spoke on the assumption that their remarks would not be made public, acknowledged that the strategies for fighting the war were flawed and that the U.S. wasted hundreds of billions of dollars trying to make Afghanistan into a stable, democratic nation.
“If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction,” Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, said in 2015, according to the documents. “We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”
The Post said the interviews also highlight botched U.S. attempts to reduce corruption, build a competent Afghan army and reduce the country’s opium trade.
U.S. presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump all vowed to avoid becoming mired in “nation-building” in Afghanistan. However, the report shows how even from the early days of the war, senior officials in charge of directing U.S. policy in the country expressed confusion about Washington’s basic objectives and strategy for achieving them.
The Post said the interviews “contradict a long chorus of public statements” that assured the U.S. was “making progress in Afghanistan.”
Outgoing Command Sgt. Maj. John Troxell, who serves as the senior enlisted adviser to the top U.S. military officer, told reporters on Monday that he “firmly thought the strategy we had in place was working.”
“I feel that we’ve never been lied to, and we are continuing to move forward (in Afghanistan),” Troxell added.
The Afghan war is estimated to have killed more than 150,000 people, including civilians, insurgents, local and foreign troops, since the U.S. and its allies invaded 18 years ago to oust the Taliban from power for sheltering al-Qaida leaders accused of plotting the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes on the U.S.
The conflict has claimed the lives of more than 2,400 U.S. service members and cost Washington nearly $1 trillion.
The Post waged a legal battle for three years to force the government to disclose the information because of its importance to the public.
The U.S. and the Afghan Taliban restarted peace negotiations on Saturday, three months after Trump abruptly stopped the yearlong process aimed at finding a political settlement with the insurgent group and ending the war in Afghanistan.
Afghan-born U.S. special reconciliation representative, Zalmay Khalilzad, led his team at a meeting Saturday in Doha, Qatar, where insurgent negotiators are based.
The draft agreement the U.S.-Taliban negotiations had produced before Trump called off the process on Sept. 7 would have set the stage for a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
The Taliban, in return, had given counterterrorism guarantees and promised to engage in intra-Afghan peace negotiations to permanently end decades of hostilities in the country.