The documents, amounting to more than 2,000 pages, obtained and published by The Washington Post on Monday, were part of a federal project that sought to examine the US war strategy in Afghanistan and that was led by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR).
SIGAR interviewed more than 400 people with a direct role in the Afghan war, which cost one trillion dollars and killed over 2,300 US servicemen and women, and injured over 20,000.
John Sopko, the head of the SIGAR, told the Post that the documents clearly showed “the American people have constantly been lied to.”
Sopko stressed that the data obtained from the interviewees — including top military commanders and diplomats — had been altered and facts had been twisted by government officials to present a positive picture of the reality in Afghanistan.
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In one assessment, Douglas Lute, a three-star US army general who served as the Afghan war czar under former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, told interviewers working on the SIGAR project in 2015 that American forces didn’t have the slightest idea about what they were doing in the war-ravaged country.
“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” Lute said. “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”
In another interview, Jeffrey Eggers, a retired Navy SEAL and White House staffer for Bush and Obama, said, “What did we get for this $1tn effort? Was it worth $1tn?”
Eggers added, “After the killing of Osama bin Laden, I said that Osama was probably laughing in his watery grave considering how much we have spent on Afghanistan.”
The US invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, claiming that it was harboring al-Qaeda, the terrorist group headed by bin Laden that had claimed responsibility for the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York City earlier that same year. The US said it had killed bin Laden in 2011 — almost 10 years after the start of the Afghan war — and in Pakistan. It also never produced his body.
Bob Crowley, an army colonel who served as a senior counterinsurgency adviser to US military commanders in 2013 and 2014, told government interviewers that the information on the Afghan war had been falsified to offer a rosy picture to the US public.
“Every data point was altered to present the best picture possible,” Crowley said. “Surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced that everything we were doing was right and we became a self-licking ice cream cone.”
The Washington Post obtained the documents after a three-year legal battle.
Its disclosure comes as US President Donald Trump has been attempting to strike a peace deal with the Taliban, the very group that the US invaded Afghanistan to eradicate.
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Trump said in a surprise visit to Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan last month that the US forces were to stay in the country “until such time as we have a deal or we have total victory.”
More than 14,000 US troops remain in Afghanistan, and Trump has offered confused policy positions regarding the war, both expressing frustration with it and stressing the continued stay of American forces in the Asian country.