No Direction

The Afghanistan Papers offer vivid details and sometimes shocking assessments but few surprising insights.

By Meriam Sabih | March 2020

After a three year legal battle, on December 9, the Washington Post released documents comprising over 400 interviews known as the “Afghanistan Papers”. The Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction was formed by the United States Congress to provide much needed oversight into mistakes made or “lessons learned” during the eighteen years of America’s longest war.

The Washington Post’s inquiry to gain access to the documents started with a tip that Micheal Flynn had given in an interview about the war in Afghanistan. The Flynn interview raised questions on enabling corruption, ineffectiveness of policies, a “positivity bias”, lack of understanding of the Afghan people, and the distrust the Afghans had towards the US military which had made their work more difficult. Despite this, each commander who left Afghanistan stated that they had accomplished their mission of “defeating the enemy and protecting the population” only for the next battalion to take over and realize that things were in as bad a shape on the ground as they always were.

The findings in the “Afghanistan Papers” show that the truth was withheld from the American people and they were deliberately fed disinformation. The documents released by the Washington Post also state that large amounts of the aide given was misused and there was no clear indication of what the strategy or objectives to fight the war in Afghanistan were and whether goals were attainable or not. In many cases the American troops did not even know who their enemy was.

The main objectives in Afghanistan to disperse Al-Qaeda and diminish the Taliban were achieved early on. Since 2002 the United States has spent over $2 trillion of the taxpayer’s money. Much of this has never made it either to the government of Afghanistan or its people. An op-ed in the Washington Post on December 11 titled, “The United States’ fatal flaw in Afghanistan? Excluding Afghans” states that, “ early as 2008, an Oxfam analysis of aid distribution in Afghanistan highlighted endemic exploitation within the American aid industry itself, with two-thirds of aid received bypassing the Afghan government and people completely.” More development and increased trust would have resulted had that money been used to benefit the Afghan people rather than go towards disproportionately hefty salaries of contractors.

The United States has been in talks with the Taliban, even while the democratically-elected government of Afghanistan remains excluded. Will such negotiations prove helpful to the Afghan people for a long term cease-fire and the American masses in reaching overall “success” in the war in Afghanistan? Can the war be deemed successful if the United States allows the Taliban back into a power-sharing scenario?

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The author is a columnist and former contributor to Al-Jazeera America. She has a Masters degree in Political Science and can be reached at or twitter @meriamsabih

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