A Washington Post Best Book of 2021
The #1 New York Times bestselling investigative story of how three successive presidents and their military commanders deceived the public year after year about America’s longest war, foreshadowing the Taliban’s recapture of Afghanistan, by Washington Post reporter and three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Craig Whitlock.
Unlike the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 had near-unanimous public support. At first, the goals were straightforward and clear: defeat al-Qaeda and prevent a repeat of 9/11. Yet soon after the United States and its allies removed the Taliban from power, the mission veered off course and US officials lost sight of their original objectives.
Distracted by the war in Iraq, the US military become mired in an unwinnable guerrilla conflict in a country it did not understand. But no president wanted to admit failure, especially in a war that began as a just cause. Instead, the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations sent more and more troops to Afghanistan and repeatedly said they were making progress, even though they knew there was no realistic prospect for an outright victory.
Just as the Pentagon Papers changed the public’s understanding of Vietnam, The Afghanistan Papers contains “fast-paced and vivid” (The New York Times Book Review) revelation after revelation from people who played a direct role in the war from leaders in the White House and the Pentagon to soldiers and aid workers on the front lines. In unvarnished language, they admit that the US government’s strategies were a mess, that the nation-building project was a colossal failure, and that drugs and corruption gained a stranglehold over their allies in the Afghan government. All told, the account is based on interviews with more than 1,000 people who knew that the US government was presenting a distorted, and sometimes entirely fabricated, version of the facts on the ground.
Documents unearthed by The Washington Post reveal that President Bush didn’t know the name of his Afghanistan war commander—and didn’t want to meet with him. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld admitted that he had “no visibility into who the bad guys are.” His successor, Robert Gates, said: “We didn’t know jack shit about al-Qaeda.”
The Afghanistan Papers is a “searing indictment of the deceit, blunders, and hubris of senior military and civilian officials” (Tom Bowman, NRP Pentagon Correspondent) that will supercharge a long-overdue reckoning over what went wrong and forever change the way the conflict is remembered.
U.S. government and military officials took part in an "unspoken conspiracy to mask the truth" about the war in Afghanistan, according to this searing chronicle. Expanding on a series of articles published in the Washington Post, Whitlock explains how he learned, in 2016, about a government program to interview hundreds of participants in the war for a report on policy failures in Afghanistan called "Lessons Learned." Drawing on these transcripts and other oral history projects, Whitlock paints a devastating portrait of how public messaging about the conflict consistently belied the reality on the ground. He details internal rivalries in the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department, and the fatigue and pessimism of soldiers on the front lines. ("We were just going around killing people," says one special forces officer.) A costly program to eradicate opium poppy fields in Helmand province backfired spectacularly, turning the region into a "lethal stronghold for the insurgency" and earning harsh criticism from veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke and others. Whitlock also delves into the 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden, the Obama administration's skewing of statistics to support its war strategy, evidence of Afghan government corruption, and the Trump administration's complex peace plan with the Taliban. Rigorously detailed and relentlessly pessimistic, this is a heartbreaking look at how America's leaders "chose to bury their mistakes and let the war drift."
You could not or would not want to believe it.
My take away after reading this is: all those veterans who did their tours of Iraq and Afghanistan, why were they not speaking up to our elected representatives about the folly of this train wreck in military mission creeping. The wasted billions deserves a blue ribbon investigation. This book was not quite as detailed as I hoped. It however revealed that many of our military geniuses knew the truth and still kept silent. The golden goose just kept on laying golden eggs. Eisenhower rolled over in his grave.
well thought out, superb. Very interesting, well worth reading. It’s balanced and does not sugar coat it, details the struggles in Afghanistan.
Very interesting! What a train wreck the war in Afghanistan was!
A great read! I learned a lot! Keep up the good work Mr. Whitlock.