Telling the Truth About the War in Afghanistan
(Source: Center for Strategic and International Studies; issued Sept 12, 2018)
By Anthony H. Cordesman
Anyone who has lived through the lies the U.S. government told about the war in Vietnam, or its failure to honestly report the uncertainties regarding Iraq’s continued pursuit of weapons of mass destruction that led to the U.S. invasion in 2003, knows how dangerous it is for the U.S. government to paint a false impression of success in a war or crisis, and to lie directly or by omission.

Anyone who has served in the U.S. government also knows how tempting it is for officials, commanders, and public affairs offers to “spin” the course of a war in favorable terms, to pressure the intelligence community for favorable results or silence, and to shape internal planning and analysis around comforting assumptions and illusions.

As Clausewitz touched upon in his classic writing – On War – the fog of war is partly inevitable, but it also can easily can become a self-inflicted wound. Creating a fantasy world is the worst possible way to shape a strategy, commit resources, and try to sustain a conflict.

Matters of Nuance and Spin, rather than the Afghan Equivalent of the Vietnam “Follies”

Department of Defense, Department of State, and command official reporting on the Afghan War has not repeated the mistakes the U.S. made in Vietnam, and in preparing for the invasion of Iraq. Much of it has been honest and objective – particularly in the press briefings and conferences given by senior officers and field commanders.

There have, however, been far too many lies of omission rather than lies of commission.

More and more forms of reporting and metrics have been eliminated, embarrassing information has been classified, methods of reporting have been changed in ways that are not properly explained, and the State Department and USAID have largely ceased to report any overviews of the civil progress in the war while OSD Public Affairs has cut much of its reporting on the Afghan War out of its web page – including removing the listing of its 1225 semi-annual report to Congress from the list of DoD publications. (See accessed September11, 2018)

By and large, the U.S. government can argue that most of its reporting is at least a possible interpretation of the data and events. However, the problems in official reporting are still serious and growing.

A recent article in the New York Times by Rod Norland, Ash Ngu, and Fahim Abed – “How the U.S. Government Misleads the Public on Afghanistan” highlights the extent to which some aspects of U.S. official reporting on the war has become increasingly biased and dishonest. It is, however, only a snapshot of a much broader and longer pattern of increasing dishonesty. For example, Bill Roggio of the Long War Journal has issued report after report on the extent to which the U.S. government has not objectively reported the outcome of given aspects of the fighting and the level of Afghan government versus Taliban control. (end of excerpt)


Click here for the full report (151 PDF pages) on the CSIS website.

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