Barbara Boland, 5 Infuriating Takeaways From The ‘Afghanistan Papers’

Lies, spin, over a trillion dollars wasted, and no strategy. They knew for 18 years and no one said a thing.

After an extensive investigation and a three-year long Freedom of Information Act legal battle, The Washington Post released a trove of documents entitled the Afghanistan Papers Monday, and there’s a staggering amount of infuriating information contained therein.

The trove comes from a project entitled “Lessons Learned” commissioned by the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR.) As part of the project, SIGAR staff interviewed over 600 people with firsthand knowledge of the war, including generals, diplomats, aid workers, and Afghan officials.

There’s over two thousand pages of previously unpublished documents and notes from interviews showing that the U.S. government deliberately misled Americans about the progress of the war in Afghanistan and proffered misleading and dishonest claims that senior officials knew were untrue. The title “Afghanistan Papers” is an unflattering nod by The Washington Post to the Pentagon Papers, which exposed the lies by the government in the Vietnam War.

1) The government suppressed its own “Lessons Learned” 

Probably the biggest unintentional irony is the Pentagon’s title for the project: “Lessons Learned.” “The $11 million project was meant to diagnose policy failures in Afghanistan so the United States would not repeat the mistakes the next time it invaded a country or tried to rebuild a shattered one,” reports The Washington Post.

Instead, the witnesses’ first-hand accounts and unvarnished truths were suppressed for years. SIGAR instead published documents “written in dense bureaucratic prose and focused on an alphabet soup of government initiatives” leaving “out the harshest and most frank criticisms from the interviews.” The only reason these accounts are seeing the light of day is because the Post was able to withstand years of legal battle—which continues—as the U.S. District Court has yet to rule that the public has a right to know which public officials misled the American people on the war. The paper decided to publish in the meantime.

2) Staggering Amount of Money Wasted

Perhaps the most outrageous takeaway is the untold sums wasted in the war:

One unidentified contractor told government interviewers he was expected to dole out $3 million daily for projects in a single Afghan district roughly the size of a U.S. county. He once asked a visiting congressman whether the lawmaker could responsibly spend that kind of money back home: “He said hell no. ‘Well, sir, that’s what you just obligated us to spend and I’m doing it for communities that live in mud huts with no windows.’ ”

Three million dollars. A day. In one Afghan district.

The United States allocated more than $133 billion to build Afghanistan—more than was spent, in inflation adjusted dollars, on the Marshall Plan, which encompassed all of Western Europe after World War II. After World War II, the Marshall Plan helped reconstitute well-developed first-world countries. The best estimates say over a trillion has been spent so far on the war in total. What do we have to show for it?

An unnamed executive from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is quoted in the article saying that he guessed 90 percent of what was spent was wasted: “We lost objectivity. We were given money, told to spend it and we did, without reason.”

3) Who are the ‘Bad Guys’?

Officials repeatedly acknowledge in “Lessons Learned” that with so many competing agendas in Washington, it was like having no real war strategy at all.

Fundamental disagreements went unresolved. Some U.S. 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.

“With the AfPak strategy there was a present under the Christmas tree for everyone,” an unidentified U.S. official told government interviewers in 2015. “By the time you were finished you had so many priorities and aspirations it was like no strategy at all.”

This made it easy for warlords and kleptocrats to exploit the huge U.S. cash infusion for their own purposes. U.S. officials publicly denounced the historic levels of corruption, but privately tolerated it.

Christopher Kolenda, an Army colonel who deployed to Afghanistan several times and advised three U.S. generals in charge of the war, said that the Afghan government led by President Hamid Karzai had “self-organized into a kleptocracy” by 2006 — and that U.S. officials failed to recognize the lethal threat it posed to their strategy.

“Our biggest single project, sadly and inadvertently, of course, may have been the development of mass corruption,” said former U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker, the top U.S. diplomat in Kabul in 2002 and from 2011 to 2012. Crocker sat for two interviews that yielded 95 transcribed pages. He added, “Once it gets to the level I saw, when I was out there, it’s somewhere between unbelievably hard and outright impossible to fix it.”

The single most salient challenge for U.S. military commanders, however, was the struggle to articulate who they were fighting, or why. From the article:

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? According to the documents, the U.S. government never settled on an answer.

As a result, in the field, U.S. troops often couldn’t tell friend from foe.

“They thought I was going to come to them with a map to show them where the good guys and bad guys live,” an unnamed former adviser to an Army Special Forces team told government interviewers in 2017. “It took several conversations for them to understand that I did not have that information in my hands. At first, they just kept asking: ‘But who are the bad guys, where are they?’ ”

The view wasn’t any clearer from the Pentagon.

“I have no visibility into who the bad guys are,” Rumsfeld complained in a Sept. 8, 2003 memo.

No one seems to have seriously questioned whether the U.S. should have invaded Afghanistan while possessing a foreign policy that only has room for “bad guys” and “good guys.”

4) It was all fake news, lies and spin

In response to a 2017 FOIA lawsuit filed by the National Security Archive, the Pentagon began reviewing and releasing hundreds of pages of previously classified memos about the Afghan war dictated by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld between 2001 and 2006—often called his “snowflakes.” The Archive shared the snowflakes with The Post, and together with the SIGAR interviews, they comprise a damning account of the ways officials kept Americans in the dark about what was transpiring in Afghanistan.

While Rumsfeld privately foresaw many of the problems that would continue to haunt the U.S. military over a decade later, he publicly scoffed at the idea that the war had turned into a “quagmire.”

In one note he wrote to several generals and senior aides:

“I may be impatient. In fact I know I’m a bit impatient. We are never going to get the U.S. military out of Afghanistan unless we take care to see that there is something going on that will provide the stability that will be necessary for us to leave. Help!”

That memo was dated April 17, 2002, just six months after the war started.

That wasn’t the face he showed publicly however.

In fact, the documents show Rumsfeld’s blessing on numerous tactics U.S. military officials used, borrowed from Vietnam, to manipulate public opinion.

These high-pressure tactics to spin the narrative so that any news, no matter how dire, would read as good news, continued unabated under Obama.

A person identified only as a senior National Security Council official said there was constant pressure from the Obama White House and Pentagon to produce figures to show the troop surge of 2009 to 2011 was working, despite hard evidence to the contrary.

“It was impossible to create good metrics. We tried using troop numbers trained, violence levels, control of territory and none of it painted an accurate picture,” the senior NSC official told government interviewers in 2016. “The metrics were always manipulated for the duration of the war.”

Even when casualty counts and other figures looked bad, the senior NSC official said, the White House and Pentagon would spin them to the point of absurdity. Suicide bombings in Kabul were portrayed as a sign of the Taliban’s desperation, that the insurgents were too weak to engage in direct combat. Meanwhile, a rise in U.S. troop deaths was cited as proof that American forces were taking the fight to the enemy.

“From the ambassadors down to the low level, [they all say] we are doing a great job,” Michael Flynn, a retired three-star Army general, told government interviewers in 2015. “Really? So if we are doing such a great job, why does it feel like we are losing?”

Bob Crowley, a retired Army colonel who served as a counterinsurgency adviser in Afghanistan in 2013 and 2014, told government interviewers that at military headquarters in Kabul, “bad news was often stifled” because “the truth was rarely welcome.”

“There was more freedom to share bad news if it was small—we’re running over kids with our MRAPs [armored vehicles]—because those things could be changed with policy directives,” he said. “But when we tried to air larger strategic concerns about the willingness, capacity or corruption of the Afghan government, it was clear it wasn’t welcome.”

Military officials would create color-coded charts proclaiming their positive achievements, devoting an “inordinate amount of resources” to the endeavor, said John Garofano, a Naval War College strategist who advised Marines in Helmand province in 2011.

“They had a really expensive machine that would print the really large pieces of paper like in a print shop,” he said. “There would be a caveat that these are not actually scientific figures, or this is not a scientific process behind this.”

But it didn’t matter that the process wasn’t scientific, because no one bothered to question the numbers behind the charts anyway.

5) Eighteen Years In, two parties responsible, no one accountable

After 18 years, encompassing three presidential administrations from both parties, no one has been held accountable for the vast U.S. taxpayer dollars—not to mention, blood, sweat, and tears—wasted on an exercise for a purpose that even the principle players seem unable to identify.

These papers show a clear attempt to mislead and deceive the American people about the extent of the administrative and bureaucratic waste and incompetence that was occurring. What these interviews reveal is mind-blowing; that no one has been unaccountable is criminal.



Barbara Boland is TAC’s foreign policy and national security reporter. Previously, she worked as an editor for the Washington Examiner and for CNS News. She is the author of Patton Uncovered, a book about General George Patton in World War II, and her work has appeared on Fox News, The Hill UK Spectator, and elsewhere. Boland is graduate from Immaculata University in Pennsylvania.  Follow her on Twitter @BBatDC.

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22 thoughts on “Barbara Boland, 5 Infuriating Takeaways From The ‘Afghanistan Papers’”

  1. A short article from ZH…so I am posting in it’s entirety

    Thank the heavens we have spent well over a trillion bucks to keep the world and the elite supplied with opium!

    What Everyone Is Missing About The Afghanistan Papers

    by Tyler Durden
    Mon, 12/16/2019 – 23:50

    Authored by Darius Shahtahmasebi via,

    If you need more proof that lawmakers in the U.S. couldn’t care less about America’s woeful commitment to human rights abroad – or even care about the public who vote them into office – look no further than the recent Afghanistan papers and the reaction to the publications from Congress.

    According to the Washington Post, the outlet had obtained 2,000 pages of notes from interviews with more than 400 generals, diplomats, and other officials directly involved in the war. The documents showed that U.S. officials were lying about the progress being made in Afghanistan, lacked a basic understanding of Afghanistan, were hiding unmistakable evidence that the war had become unwinnable, and wasted close to $1 trillion in the process.

    Barely a few hours following the Post’s publication, Congress rewarded the Pentagon for its stellar efforts with a $22 billion budget increase. How can we as a society justify this?

    One stand-out statistic—among the many concerning ones—is the fact that before the U.S. invasion the Taliban had almost completely put to bed Afghanistan’s illicit opium trade. Since the U.S. invasion, combined with $9 billion in U.S. funding for anti-opium programs, the Taliban is not only stronger than it ever was but sits cemented in a country that now supplies 80 percent of the world’s opium.

    I can’t help but think this was done on purpose.

    Still, it would be worth re-thinking our outrage over the Afghanistan papers and determining what exactly it is we are outraged about. Are we simply angry because top U.S. officials lied to us about the fact they weren’t winning the war, making it a less worthwhile venture? If the U.S. were winning the war, spending $1 trillion in the process, killing record numbers of civilians, ramping up night raids to terrorize local populations, committing war crimes left right and center, would that suddenly make it all okay? As long as the war is being won, right?

    The truth is, like most wars the U.S. finds itself prosecuting; this was yet another war based entirely on lies and misconceptions—right from the outset. As Marjorie Cohn, professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and president of the National Lawyers Guild famously said:

    “The UN Charter is a treaty ratified by the United States and thus part of U.S. law. Under the charter, a country can use armed force against another country only in self-defense or when the Security Council approves. Neither of those conditions was met before the United States invaded Afghanistan. The Taliban did not attack us on 9/11. Nineteen men—15 from Saudi Arabia—did, and there was no imminent threat that Afghanistan would attack the U.S. or another UN member country. The council did not authorize the United States or any other country to use military force against Afghanistan. The U.S. war in Afghanistan is illegal.”

    If that was the case in 2001, how this war has continued for close to another two decades begins to beggar belief. In that time, the consequences for the Afghan civilian population has been catastrophic.

    In February of 2010, a NATO night raid conducted in a village in the Paktia province of Afghanistan left seven civilians dead, including two pregnant women. NATO tried to spin the raid as an attack on a compound festering with “militant activity,” but this quickly fell apart thanks to a British reporter, Jerome Starkey, who had already reported that this was a false narrative.


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    The compound actually belonged to an anti-Taliban policeman trained by the United States. At the time, the family had gathered to celebrate the naming of a newborn son. In order to cover the tracks of their reckless decision to execute unarmed civilians, the American troops used knives to dig out the bullets from the bodies of the pregnant women killed.

    This is the kind of activity that trillions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer money has been paying for on a regular basis. More than 775,000 troops have served in Afghanistan, with 2,300 U.S. personnel deaths. Not to mention that the U.S. has not been fighting there alone, and has had assistance not just from NATO, but from so-called peaceful states like New Zealand as well (who have been accused of committing war crimes, too).

    Yes, we should be outraged that officials lied about the prospects of success. But we should primarily be disturbed that they first and foremost lie in order to push our countries into these wars in the first place, killing countless innocent civilians over and over again.

    We can’t let this recent publication obscure itself into nothingness. The recent reaction from Congress is a giant middle finger designed to tell you that (a) there will never be anything you can do about it and (b) they simply don’t care how you feel.

    Democracy at its finest from the world’s leading propagator of democratic values.

  2. Where did the $1 trillion they spent come from? Did they borrow it? Who loaned it to them? Or did they just sell the stolen drugs from there to get it? Remember all this con was based on the lies of the false flag attack on 9/11/01 by Israel, Bush, Cheney, the four star generals who obviously did not lift a finger to “defend” America that day and more. Look at the enormous “defense” spending pork bill the whores in Congress just passed! Why do we need all this borrowed and printed money for more military hardware when we have too much now? Abolish both totally corrupt political party whore houses today. Fire all 535 on the take whores in Congress. Start OVER. What good was all this fancy “defense” on 9/11/01? Did anyone observe any of the whore four star generals lifting a finger to defend the country on 9/11/01? Americans are the biggest idiots on planet earth. They just don’t care. Hey American fools: These corrupt so called “generals” were in on the con as was our whole government led by Israel! Fire everyone and get the leaches in Israel out of our country forever.

      1. In all seriousness, asking for a sincere response, I would like to ask two questions and beg a response from all here…..

        Why do most Americans not even ask for an address to our grievances?
        What will it take for most of us to finally stand up and demand we be heard?

        And as a bonus, do most here believe having leadership and organization would help any endeavor?

      2. Will, you are asking if we can organize in a traditional way, like the old labor song, “Which side are you on, boys?” Pete Seeger was maybe the kind of leader you mean. One YT commenter calls Seeger,”A real stand-up guy who wouldn’t name names, and was ready to go to prison for it. He was convicted of contempt of Congress for his refusal, but it was reversed on appeal. One of the best people ever and one of my heroes.”

        I love Pete Seeger, too, but I don’t know. Wasn’t organized labor taken over by the mob?

        I know you already know this, Will, but the two reasons that organizing won’t work that I see right now are:

        One, organizations are infiltrated till they fall apart or become controlled opposition. This is what happened to Occupy. It was prevented from achieving anything.

        And two, political activists seem to be inculcated in the dogma of the controllers, to the point that they are willing to squelch the speech of anyone who questions the narrative and, along with the msm, destroy the lives of the dissenters. The sadly comical thing about this is they consider themselves to be all rebels! Challenging the audacity of those who so wrongfully disagree with them! Never again! Nazis must be shunned!

        Organized protest doesn’t work anymore. Look what they made Charleston into.

      3. Seeger was my hero also…..he was exceptional.
        I listened to the Raw Deal tonight.
        I feel we are doomed.
        …but will continue to fight.
        What else is there…submission?

      4. Toni…to be more specific to your reply…..I am asking if we can organize in any way…..covertly if needed (and it certainly seems it would be). Whatever it takes. Are there enough Americans who give a damn? OR, are we all just posting here as some sort of mastubatory function? Keericed, the smallest amoeba has the ability to organize in some way to proliferate, propagate or whatever. Are we all just too fat and happy? Just let us have our cell phones, TV and smart appliances and leave us alone….to paraphrase that
        speech from Network.
        Have we crossed the Rubicon of uncaring and submission to never return to our essence which is freedom of mind, thought, speech and spirit?
        Why is our behavior ALWAYS defensive. WHEN do we get to an offensive mode….300 + million acting OFFENSIVELY, despite the many naysayers, is unbeatable. The elite would crap in their pants and run to momma!

      5. Like I said, I don’t think organizing will work now, because it’s been demonstrated that any kind of alliance will be infiltrated and subverted. You yourself can clearly see the common predicament of an obvious majority, whose numbers could easily overcome the power structure. But no one’s going to join that majority as their individual situation will be affected. Everyone sees what happens to people who express the wrong opinion. This fear creates an automatic recoil against people’s own interests.

        So I don’t know what’s next, Will. Maybe an evolution in consciousness will save us. There’s a psychological theory that focuses on the developmental stages of values. It’s usually expressed as a spiral, and works on both the individual and societal levels. It grows towards greater complexity from First Tier thinking to Second Tier thinking, which is where about 2% of the population is at now.

        A characteristic of First Tier thinking is that every stage thinks all the others are wrong. It’s only in Second Tier thinking that the useful aspects of each stage are integrated, and dichotomy is overcome. Second Tier thinking ‘transcends and includes’ the previous stages.

        I can explain this in more detail, if you’re interested.

        This evolution is happening even though it doesn’t look like it. It’s a process that’s trying to outrun the devolutionary effects of war, poverty, resource extraction, environmental degradation, the surveillance state, loss of liberties, you get the picture. (It’s mostly a clash between orange and green, see the attached graphic) In a Second Tier thinking scenario, enough people will get smart enough, quickly enough, to see how to avoid our own destruction.

        I know this sounds a little culty and New Ageish, but think of the stunned and traumatized nation after 9/11; our collective consciousness was dimmed.

        False flags and mass casualty events are the tools used to shock the populace and knock its general consciousness back down the spiral. You can tell by the ruthlessness with which those in power pursue truthtellers that higher consciousness is their enemy.


      6. Toni…..I have not enough time (and neither to my great grand children) to wait for an evolution of consciousness…how about you?
        No offense meant…I fully understand your research and appreciate it…..but this will not happen over night.
        Am I incorrect?

      7. Will, it’s not some far-fetched idea that won’t happen over night, as you put it. I forgot to mention that there are practices, like meditation, which lead pretty quickly to Second Tier thinking. Also, more complex thinking endows the thinker with more power than First Tier thinking. A smaller proportion of the population can have a disproportionate amount of clout, simply because of the way they are able to think. So it takes less numbers of Second Tier thinkers to reach the tipping point you would like to see.

      8. Will, somehow I get the feeling that you don’t want there to be any answer. Is it that you want to be the lone voice in the wilderness? “I was the one who called for people to rise up, but they wouldn’t!” Seems like you’ve stuck yourself in a cul-de-sac by demanding that everyone join you in your uprising now, that everyone think the same as you and do it now! That seems far-fetched and definitely won’t happen overnight, if ever.

      9. Toni…Incorrect…I am simply sincerely looking for something that gives me hope for myself and what’s left of this country and so far I have yet to hear it.

      10. Sorry, Will.
        Anyway, I want to finish my thought here. Will, you don’t have to read it.

        The biggest factor I see impeding the evolution of consciousness as theorized in Spiral Dynamics is the worldviews of its leading theorists. None are interested in a revised history. In their writings they rely on consensus narratives (the ubiquitous ‘Nazi’ for example) to flesh out their concepts. Mass casualty events, social engineering, 9/11, Gladio – none enter their dialogue.

        This is why the amorphous group of truth tellers of which we count this blog, is so important. It’s the truth community that will take it to the Second Tier.

      11. Toni, why would I not read your comment/ideas? I’m open to all suggestions. I just think we are at a point of urgency and although the mass consciousness is very definitely evolving, I do not believe we have the time to wait. Time and circumstance demand a more expedient response. Jack’s idea about writing your CONgress person has validity, but what about folks like myself who refuse to vote or register into an illegitimate compromised, corrupt system?
        One thing I most clearly from EST seminars is to keep the conversation open. There is an answer.
        Resignation is the killer and THEY depend upon exactly that attitude.
        I still believe marching on DC would get some attention…infiltrated or not.
        Even the occupy movement brought many issues to the forefront.

      12. I’m serious, Will. You don’t even have to walk there; you could drive. Take your time. Stop in towns and give talks. There are people in every city that will take in activists. The key is social media. With a strong social media backing (and you like online discussion), you could draw people and their support to your message. Ask them to follow you.

    1. Many Americans do not understand the basic mandate of those four star generals who direct the defense of this country The United States of America. I am sure Professor Jim Fetzer, Ph.D. and top scholar, and former U.S. Marine Officer, will confirm the truth of this statement: The most basic responsibility of the top officers in charge of our military in the United States is to DEFEND THIS COUNTRY NO HOLDS BARRED!
      What does this mean? Quote: ” No-holds-barred | Definition of No-holds-barred by Merriam …
      No-holds-barred definition is – free of restrictions or hampering conventions” The four star generals have been provided unlimited resources to anticipate and defend any and every, repeat any and every possible mode of attack on this country period end of sentence. They can and do use experts in every possible field, in and out of government to accomplish this goal. Nothing is off the table. They even had and have the power to defend his country from attack without a presidential order to do so or even if the president should order them to stand down! The patent lie that they did not know about or anticipate the attack on the towers and the Pentagon by Israel on 9/11/01 is absolute horse manure. Did you observe any evidence of them using their powers and exercising their basic responsibility to defend this nation on 9/11/01 on television or anywhere else? No, zero, nothing. The only and I mean only, conclusion from this observation is that they were IN ON THE CON! Therefore they were and are traitors and must be arrested, charged, tried and convicted of terrorism themselves and shot. If the last giant U.S. General George S. Patton had not been murdered by our own government in 1945, who was the greatest U.S. General of WWII in the opinion of the top German officers, one can be sure he would gladly stand up and volunteer for this unpleasant duty! This giant American Hero is buried with his men in Europe as was his wish. Almost none of the top brass even attended his funeral either. They are a disgraceful lot of traitors. Shame, shame, shame….on them!

  3. It all makes perfect sense to me, once you see that the US is being bled to death by a thousand cuts for a hundred years. Didn’t it all start with the federal reserve act? Once that happened, world war one followed not too long after that. War to end all wars, isn’t that how it was sold ? Without the ability to create money at will, the big wars could not have happened. I ran into a veteran from our endless middle east wars at an office supply store. He told a chilling tale of coming around the corner of building an encountering a boy with an AK-47. He hesitated drilling the kid, but the kid did not and put a round dead center in his chest at close range. Even though he had a kevlar vest, the round dropped him to the ground. Support our troops? Yeah, for sure by bringing all of them home from Japan, Italy, Germany, Korea and everywhere else we permanently occupy


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