Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

'The Afghanistan Papers': War Revelations From The Washington Post

U.S. Marines step off in the early morning during an operation to push out Taliban fighters on July 18, 2009 in Herati, Afghanistan. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
U.S. Marines step off in the early morning during an operation to push out Taliban fighters on July 18, 2009 in Herati, Afghanistan. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

The Washington Post’s massive investigation that U.S. officials misled the public about the Afghanistan War for almost 20 years. We talk with one of those same officials on what they said then, and what they think now.


Craig Whitlock, investigative reporter focusing on national security for the Washington Post. ( @CraigMWhitlock)

Ryan Crocker, diplomat-in-residence, Princeton University. He has served as U.S. ambassador six times: Afghanistan (2011-2012), Iraq (2007-2009), Pakistan (2004-2007), Syria (1998-2001), Kuwait (1994-1997) and Lebanon (1990-1993).

Andrew Bacevich, president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a foreign policy think tank that promotes diplomatic engagement and military restraint. Professor emeritus of international relations and history at Boston University. Retired U.S. Army Colonel. Author, co-author or editor of more than a dozen books, among them “ America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History.”

From The Reading List

Washington Post: “ At War With The Truth” — “A confidential trove of government documents obtained by The Washington Post reveals that senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.

“The documents were generated by a federal project examining the root failures of the longest armed conflict in U.S. history. They include more than 2,000 pages of previously unpublished notes of interviews with people who played a direct role in the war, from generals and diplomats to aid workers and Afghan officials.

“The U.S. government tried to shield the identities of the vast majority of those interviewed for the project and conceal nearly all of their remarks. The Post won release of the documents under the Freedom of Information Act after a three-year legal battle.

“In the interviews, more than 400 insiders offered unrestrained criticism of what went wrong in Afghanistan and how the United States became mired in nearly two decades of warfare.

“With a bluntness rarely expressed in public, the interviews lay bare pent-up complaints, frustrations and confessions, along with second-guessing and backbiting.”

Washington Post: “ I served in Afghanistan. No, it’s not another Vietnam.” — “In 2008, Congress established the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) to investigate waste and fraud in the war zone. In the past week, The Post has published an account, ‘The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War,’ based on more than 2,000 pages of SIGAR interviews the paper obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

“From the headlines, a reader could not be blamed for thinking that Afghanistan is a wall-to-wall disaster for the United States, another Vietnam about which we must admit defeat and get out. Yet, for anyone who has been paying close attention, there are a few surprises here.

“Having served twice in Afghanistan, as chargé d’affaires and as U.S. ambassador, I have a particular interest in this story. But I acknowledge that I’m not even close to having read all the interviews. I gave the document what is known inside the Beltway as ‘a Washington read,’ looking for references to me. The main ones are two interview transcripts totaling 95 pages. I don’t think I gilded many lilies in talking about Afghanistan, whether in public comments or during my interviews with SIGAR.”

Los Angeles Times: “ Opinion: Why President Trump can’t end ‘endless wars’” — “Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has imported into the American military lexicon a new rationale for U.S. military actions in the Middle East. It’s called ‘mowing the lawn,’ but it has nothing to do with keeping the grass trimmed. ‘To mow the lawn,’ Esper recently remarked to reporters, ‘means, every now and then’ giving your adversary a good, swift kick in the shins. ‘You have to do these things,’ he explained, ‘so that a threat doesn’t grow, doesn’t resurge.’

“You mow the lawn not to eliminate a threat but to manage it.

“The phrase itself is of Israeli provenance and describes that country’s prevailing approach to dealing with the militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah. Unable to eliminate the threat posed by these organizations, Israel accepts the necessity of periodically employing force to keep them weak and off balance. Mowing the lawn, in other words, is a euphemism for attrition warfare that accepts low-level hostilities as inevitable and permanent.

“Esper’s endorsement of this concept is striking for two reasons. First, his boss does not accept war as inevitable and permanent. In speeches and at rallies, President Trump routinely promises to ‘end endless wars.’ Mowing the lawn as a tactic for dealing with Islamic State and similar entities concedes that America’s wars in the Middle East won’t be ending anytime soon. Commander in chief Trump insists that a decisive victory over these adversaries is not only achievable, but also that he himself will deliver it. Now his Pentagon chief in effect acknowledges that nothing approximating victory is in the cards.”

This article was originally published on

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit