America’s Disastrous Afghan War

Finally a bit of truth from the New York Times, but for what reason, and why now?

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Reprinted from Bracing Views with the author’s permission.

Remember when Barack Obama claimed in 2007-09 the Afghan War was the right war, the good one, as opposed to the wrong and bad Iraq War prosecuted by Bush/Cheney? Of course, they were both disastrous wars, but until the Biden administration finally pulled out, chaotically so, in 2021, the mainstream media was still supporting the idea that America was doing good in Afghanistan.

I suppose enough time has passed for the New York Times to allow for a measure of honesty, if only to support Joe Biden’s reelection this year. See, Biden made the right decision to withdraw because now we finally can admit the war was a disaster. Naturally, it wasn’t entirely or even mainly the U.S. government’s fault…

Of course, plenty of people knew the Afghan War was a disaster; my colleague Matthew Hoh resigned from the State Department in 2009 in protest against Obama’s “surge” there and counterproductive U.S. policy decisions. Democrats in Congress listened to Hoh and a few wanted to change course, but they were brought to heel by Nancy Pelosi, who said no dissent on the Afghan War was permissible when Obama was fighting so hard for health care reform in America. Hoh heard those words straight from Pelosi’s mouth. So we got twelve more years of disastrous war and Obamacare.

Anyhow, in my NYT news feed this AM, the “hidden history” of America’s “savage campaign” is finally being covered, though the savageness is largely ascribed to an Afghan ally of the U.S., General Abdul Aziq. As usual, American “advisers” tried to curb his worst instincts, apparently without success. Well, what can you do with such “savages”?

Here’s how the NYT puts it:

But his [Aziq’s] success, until his 2018 assassination, was built on torture, extrajudicial killing and abduction. In the name of security, he transformed the Kandahar police into a combat force without constraints. His officers, who were trained, armed and paid by the United States, took no note of human rights or due process, according to a New York Times investigation into thousands of cases that published this morning. Most of his victims were never seen again.

Washington’s strategy in Afghanistan aimed to beat the Taliban by winning the hearts and minds of the people it was supposedly fighting for. But Raziq embodied a flaw in that plan. The Americans empowered warlords, corrupt politicians and outright criminals in the name of military expediency. It picked proxies for whom the ends often justified the means.

The NYT is shocked, shocked!, that there was a “flaw” in the U.S. plan that “empowered warlords, corrupt politicians and outright criminals” in the cause of military “progress.” Hmm… sounds more like a feature of U.S. policy than a flaw.

What about all those U.S. generals testifying to Congress under oath about the progress we were allegedly making in Afghanistan? Are any of them going to be called to account? You can bet your sweet combat boots that they’re not.

After Aziq, matters grew even worse in Afghanistan, as the NYT puts it here: “What they [new warlords and supposed U.S. allies] brought under the name of democracy was a system in the hands of a few mafia groups,” said one resident of Kandahar who initially supported the government. “The people came to hate democracy.”

So, instead of Operation Enduring Freedom, America brought Operation Endemic Corruption to Afghanistan. That latter operation most definitely succeeded.

Here’s how the NYT summarizes its new study of the Afghan War:

Historians and scholars will spend years arguing whether the United States could have ever succeeded. The world’s wealthiest nation had invaded one of its poorest and attempted to remake it by installing a new government. Such efforts elsewhere have failed.

But U.S. mistakes – empowering ruthless killers, turning allies into enemies, enabling rampant corruptionmade the loss of its longest war at least partly self-inflicted. This is a story Matthieu [Aikins] and I [Azam Ahmed] will spend the coming months telling, from across Afghanistan.

Echoes of the Vietnam War here. The world’s wealthiest nation invading a much poorer one in the name of “democracy,” then spreading corruption and devastation ending in a chaotic withdrawal. And now grudging admission that maybe, just maybe, the U.S. loss in Afghanistan was “at least partly self-inflicted.”

Ya think? Or maybe we can just blame the Afghan people, just as we blamed our “allies” in South Vietnam.

Nothing against Aikins and Ahmed here. I’m sure their “hidden history” of America’s war in Afghanistan will be revelatory. Yet why was it “hidden” for so long? And why are the “hiders” never called to account?

And was it really “hidden”? Matthew Hoh wasn’t the only truth-teller willing to blow a whistle. Why was his honest voice suppressed while worm-tongued generals like David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal were celebrated?

I wonder when we’ll get the “hidden history” of America’s “savage” involvement in Gaza and Ukraine? Perhaps in 2030?

William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF). He taught history for fifteen years at military and civilian schools. He writes at Bracing Views.