Hot Best Seller

The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War

Availability: Ready to download

The groundbreaking investigative story of how three successive presidents and their military commanders deceived the public year after year about America’s longest war, foreshadowing the Taliban’s recapture of Afghanistan, by Washington Post reporter and three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Craig Whitlock. Unlike the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, the US invasion of Afghanistan in The groundbreaking investigative story of how three successive presidents and their military commanders deceived the public year after year about America’s longest war, foreshadowing the Taliban’s recapture of Afghanistan, by Washington Post reporter and three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Craig Whitlock. Unlike the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 had near-unanimous public support. At first, the goals were straightforward and clear: to defeat al-Qaeda and prevent a repeat of 9/11. Yet soon after the United States and its allies removed the Taliban from power, the mission veered off course and US officials lost sight of their original objectives. Distracted by the war in Iraq, the US military became mired in an unwinnable guerrilla conflict in a country it did not understand. But no president wanted to admit failure, especially in a war that began as a just cause. Instead, the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations sent more and more troops to Afghanistan and repeatedly said they were making progress, even though they knew there was no realistic prospect for an outright victory. Just as the Pentagon Papers changed the public’s understanding of Vietnam, The Afghanistan Papers contains startling revelation after revelation from people who played a direct role in the war, from leaders in the White House and the Pentagon to soldiers and aid workers on the front lines. In unvarnished language, they admit that the US government’s strategies were a mess, that the nation-building project was a colossal failure, and that drugs and corruption gained a stranglehold over their allies in the Afghan government. All told, the account is based on interviews with more than 1,000 people who knew that the US government was presenting a distorted, and sometimes entirely fabricated, version of the facts on the ground. Documents unearthed by The Washington Post reveal that President Bush didn’t know the name of his Afghanistan war commander—and didn’t want to make time to meet with him. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld admitted he had “no visibility into who the bad guys are.” His successor, Robert Gates, said: “We didn’t know jack shit about al-Qaeda.” The Afghanistan Papers is a shocking account that will supercharge a long overdue reckoning over what went wrong and forever change the way the conflict is remembered.


Compare

The groundbreaking investigative story of how three successive presidents and their military commanders deceived the public year after year about America’s longest war, foreshadowing the Taliban’s recapture of Afghanistan, by Washington Post reporter and three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Craig Whitlock. Unlike the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, the US invasion of Afghanistan in The groundbreaking investigative story of how three successive presidents and their military commanders deceived the public year after year about America’s longest war, foreshadowing the Taliban’s recapture of Afghanistan, by Washington Post reporter and three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Craig Whitlock. Unlike the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 had near-unanimous public support. At first, the goals were straightforward and clear: to defeat al-Qaeda and prevent a repeat of 9/11. Yet soon after the United States and its allies removed the Taliban from power, the mission veered off course and US officials lost sight of their original objectives. Distracted by the war in Iraq, the US military became mired in an unwinnable guerrilla conflict in a country it did not understand. But no president wanted to admit failure, especially in a war that began as a just cause. Instead, the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations sent more and more troops to Afghanistan and repeatedly said they were making progress, even though they knew there was no realistic prospect for an outright victory. Just as the Pentagon Papers changed the public’s understanding of Vietnam, The Afghanistan Papers contains startling revelation after revelation from people who played a direct role in the war, from leaders in the White House and the Pentagon to soldiers and aid workers on the front lines. In unvarnished language, they admit that the US government’s strategies were a mess, that the nation-building project was a colossal failure, and that drugs and corruption gained a stranglehold over their allies in the Afghan government. All told, the account is based on interviews with more than 1,000 people who knew that the US government was presenting a distorted, and sometimes entirely fabricated, version of the facts on the ground. Documents unearthed by The Washington Post reveal that President Bush didn’t know the name of his Afghanistan war commander—and didn’t want to make time to meet with him. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld admitted he had “no visibility into who the bad guys are.” His successor, Robert Gates, said: “We didn’t know jack shit about al-Qaeda.” The Afghanistan Papers is a shocking account that will supercharge a long overdue reckoning over what went wrong and forever change the way the conflict is remembered.

30 review for The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War

  1. 4 out of 5

    BlackOxford

    The Curse of American Idealism Craig Whitlock is an outstanding journalist. He has done something remarkable in this book by bringing together first person reports from soldiers, administrators, and politicians about US involvement in Afghanistan since 2001. The material he has gathered from a number of little known archives describes 20 years of error, misconception, and deceit throughout the military, the government, and in communication to the public and the world. The most disturbing aspect o The Curse of American Idealism Craig Whitlock is an outstanding journalist. He has done something remarkable in this book by bringing together first person reports from soldiers, administrators, and politicians about US involvement in Afghanistan since 2001. The material he has gathered from a number of little known archives describes 20 years of error, misconception, and deceit throughout the military, the government, and in communication to the public and the world. The most disturbing aspect of Whitlock’s reporting, however, is that the American experience in Afghanistan appears virtually identical to its experience in VietNam and to the previous Russian experience in Afghanistan which the Americans had sworn to avoid.* But like a good journalist, Whitlock sticks to the facts - who screwed up, who was responsible for collecting and disseminating false information, and the slow slide into strategic and tactical confusion as lives and money flowed into the country never to return. For me, Whitlock’s tale begs a question: why do Americans do this? And so consistently? Is there a flaw in the American system of government that allows such egregious error and apparent incompetence to dominate their actions? Or does a possible flaw lie elsewhere, in national culture or character perhaps? And if the latter, why isn’t the flaw - governmental or cultural - something they debate seriously rather than merely using these kinds of gross failures in partisan point scoring? I would like to extend Whitlock’s journalistic narrative beyond what he is able to report professionally, therefore. Here are some ideas about the source of what are really global disasters imposed by the United States on the rest of the world: There’s little doubt about it: Americans are indeed idealists. But this is in no way a virtue. Idealists do very stupid and destructive things. And when those things become to much to bear or pay for, they move on to other ideals in order to repeat the cycle. They never realise that the problem they have is not the execution of this or that ideal, but the idea of the ideal itself. Eventually all ideals trap and control the idealist. Idealists believe that the key to realising success is the precise and complete articulation of the state of affairs that should be achieved. As a matter of principle idealists are taught to ignore the details of the current situation as these interfere with a vision for the future. Impediments to the realisation of the ideal are dealt with as they arise of course. But it would be inefficient to consider these in advance. Ignorance of other cultures, possible constraints on action, and persistence in the face of resistance are idealists virtues. Besides, mere articulation and presentation of what are considered self-evident ideals to them should enrol all sincere people into its realisation. The rest can be subdued by power. Idealists love power. After all the power necessary to achieve an ideal is implied by the ideal itself. Therefore idealists will use increasing amounts of power - military, economic, political - until resources are entirely depleted or until the ideal is reconsidered as ill-advised (a rare occurrence). American idealists seem constitutionally unable to admit that any particular ideal was badly formulated. However, upon achieving any ideal, they progress to further idealisation as a mark of success. Idealism is the foundation for terrorism in all its manifestations. This suggest some inability to learn from experience. Idealists are, indeed, constitutionally unable to learn. Commitment to an ideal implies that those involved must be prepared to hold to it steadfastly while it is being pursued. But when ideals prove inadequate for the situation, they provide no guidance for future ideals since ideals by their nature are irrational (or perhaps extra-rational) phenomena. They exist not as a matter of necessity or appropriateness but of pure will. Consequently any failure of idealistic effort requires a replacement of the failed ideal with no impact at all on the commitment to idealism. Failed ideals may also be resurrected when their failure is no longer noted in popular culture (that is to say, among the electorate) Idealists lie and believe themselves justified in doing so. Whether in government or Silicon Valley, Americans lie as part of the programme to promote a particular ideal and consider lying toward this end virtuous. Since any serious ideals are rarely achieved easily, lying is essential to maintain the commitment of those enrolled in the ideal. Progress is exaggerated; setbacks minimised, and, if ideals are subtly modified, changes are simply hidden. It helps, of course, if the original ideals were only vaguely formulated in order to allow rather free interpretation and wiggle-room for change without discussion (known in military circles as mission creep). Idealists, in fact, hate the political process of discussion and compromise. Consequently they tend to rather conceptually define their ideals - freedom, for example, or democratic government, or women’s rights - and then exclude many other possible ideals as interference and irrelevant to the cause - like honesty, integrity, and solidarity say. How dare anyone suggest that there should be compromise of an ideal once accepted! This is heresy among Americans. In fact, there are an infinite number of extraneous ideals that are necessarily excluded from idealist thinking. These excluded ideals are not even considered as constraints but are ignored entirely. It is usually these ignored ideals that are diagnosed as the cause of failure. But idealism prevails despite repeated failures, not just in war but in domestic politics in which idealism has become a rampant disease paralysing the body politic at all levels. This shouldn’t be surprising, I suppose, in a country founded on ideals, and whose children are educated that pragmatic idealism is an obviously superior philosophy to any other, and whose adult population engages continually in idealist promotion from a vast number of pulpits, advertisements, and sources of political propaganda. Whether on the Left or Right, among the Believers or the Atheists, idealism is the name of the game in America. Perhaps that’s where the problem that Whitlock documents, yet again, actually lies. * Just two of the many books which tell the story of American involvement in VietNam that could read just as fluidly and accurately if Afghanistan replaced that country’s name: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Murtaza

    The failure of the war in Afghanistan, an immensely costly and brutal two-decade long project of the American elite, reveals much about the way that the U.S. government functions today. This book is a jaw-dropping account of the North Korea-level lying engaged in by U.S. officials at the highest levels, telling stories they knew to be completely false about the progress of the war, concealing massive financial corruption, and killing huge numbers of Afghan civilians while denying it til the last The failure of the war in Afghanistan, an immensely costly and brutal two-decade long project of the American elite, reveals much about the way that the U.S. government functions today. This book is a jaw-dropping account of the North Korea-level lying engaged in by U.S. officials at the highest levels, telling stories they knew to be completely false about the progress of the war, concealing massive financial corruption, and killing huge numbers of Afghan civilians while denying it til the last possible moment. This book is based on files that Whitlock sued the government to receive from its internal Afghanistan war watchdog agency. What it reveals is shocking. The U.S. attempted to impose a political and security order on Afghanistan without even the most basic understanding of the country and its people, let alone who they were there to fight or what their ultimate goals were. In the end the endeavor just became about throwing gigantic amounts of money down a black hole, much of it funnelled to connected Afghan insiders who were the unsavory allies of America on the ground, but the lion's share to contractors who made a fortune off the war as it dragged on senselessly for twenty years. By this time, with Kabul having fallen to the Taliban one week after the U.S. withdrawal, you probably know the story about Afghanistan in broad strokes. But the minute details of the years of deceit, failure, and criminality that led to this moment must be read to be believed. The U.S. government is dysfunctional on a level that cannot be overstated. It is hard to trust anything that its officials say after reading the Afghanistan Papers. The slapdash, lying, expensive, and brutal manner in which they governed Afghanistan has become a metaphor for how they today govern around the world, including at home. Whether you are interested in the war or not, reading this book will teach you something important about the people who run the world today.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Wick Welker

    ”You have all the clocks, but we have all the time”. This is a timely publication about the release of candid interviews with many military personnel of various ranks and influence in the Afghanistan war about their views. The people being interviewed thought they were giving an account for historical purposes not journalistic, so the reactions and opinions are less diplomatic and much more forthright. And what is the general gestalt of one of the longest running wars in American history? Unmitig ”You have all the clocks, but we have all the time”. This is a timely publication about the release of candid interviews with many military personnel of various ranks and influence in the Afghanistan war about their views. The people being interviewed thought they were giving an account for historical purposes not journalistic, so the reactions and opinions are less diplomatic and much more forthright. And what is the general gestalt of one of the longest running wars in American history? Unmitigated disaster. Whitlock gives us a beautiful chronology of the misinformed decision to start the war up until the recent disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan. Under the pretense of fighting Al Qaeda, the US made war within the country only to be utterly confused about who their enemies actually were after they quickly weakened the terrorist organization. Because the Taliban gave sanction to Al Qaedea, apparently they were the enemy too and needed to be eradicated. Little problem: they couldn’t tell the difference between not only the different factions of the Taliban but the Taliban and Afghani civilians. Right from the get go, US policy was to have zero diplomacy with the Taliban, something that would prove to be an enormous mistake. Bush had no exit strategy. Period. He started a foolhardy war as a knee jerk reaction and everyone at the time supported him. Despite Bush and Obama denials, the US spent more on “nation building” in Afghanistan than ever before. What they did in essence was create a puppet Afghan government, mired by incompetence and corruption which was wholly dependent on the US military to even survive. The US tried to install a central government in a culture that had never even seen a government like that before. They tried training military and paramilitary operations upon people that didn’t know how to drive trucks, use a urinal, know the difference between left and right shoes or even know that rising tides was a natural phenomenon. I don’t say these things to disparage the Afghani people but US policy. The US tried to force a way of life and government onto a people that were entirely unaccustomed and recalcitrant. You can’t just go into a country and make a government within 18 months, or 5 years of whatever ridiculous terms were set by Bush, Obama and Trump. Pakistan completely played the US: taking money while helping the Taliban and lying about it. The US tried diplomacy with a host of warlords who had zero allegiance to anyone. So then the US just threw a bunch of money at the problem, spending billions of dollars building roads, bridges and schools in a nation that had no means of maintaining such infrastructure. In the year 2000, the Taliban banned growing poppy in Afghanistan and it worked. As soon as the US came, it was seen widely as a legitimate way to have an income. Once the Taliban were gone, Afghan farmers supplied about one third of the world's opium. The US then paid farmers to destroy their crops which resulted in them growing even more poppy to sell and then make money off of destroying the crops, playing both sides. Bush, Obama and Trump oversaw a culture of fabricating metrics, downplaying military involvement and continually propping up a failed puppet government that they created. The sheer amount of hubris and incompetence is staggering. After 20 years, the US destroyed a nation and left it in the very hands of those they fought, the Taliban. And if anyone finds partisan solace in blaming Biden, sorry Trump literally wanted Taliban leaders to come to DC for a photo op and planned on withdrawing all US troops by May 2021. The Afghanistan war was very on brand for the US empire. The bottom line is that this is what the US does: unfettered global war and terrorism with impuntiy. The US has been doing this for at least the last 80 years, destabilizing countries and leaving them to rot. How can the US “bring democracy” to other countries when the US itself is nothing even close to a democracy? What Whitlock doesn’t answer is: who profited from the war? Who was subcontracted? What companies were hired and what government officials had financial interest in those companies? I suspect I know the answer. There is no doubt in my mind that a handful of people made a tremendous amount of money off of the Afghanistan war.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sumit RK

    The Afghanistan Papers is a shocking account of what went wrong in the USA’s 20 year-long war against the Taliban and Al-Qaida in Afghanistan. The groundbreaking investigative story of how three successive presidents and their military commanders deceived the public, year after year, about America’s longest war, by Washington Post reporter and three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Craig Whitlock. This book is based on files that Whitlock and his newspaper managed to obtain after long legal battles w The Afghanistan Papers is a shocking account of what went wrong in the USA’s 20 year-long war against the Taliban and Al-Qaida in Afghanistan. The groundbreaking investigative story of how three successive presidents and their military commanders deceived the public, year after year, about America’s longest war, by Washington Post reporter and three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Craig Whitlock. This book is based on files that Whitlock and his newspaper managed to obtain after long legal battles with the US government. The sources include memos and interviews of senior defense staff, generals, politicians, intelligence agents, diplomats, and contractors from both the US and NATO countries. Just as the Pentagon Papers changed the public’s understanding of Vietnam, The Afghanistan Papers contains startling revelation from people who played a direct role in the war, from leaders in the White House and the Pentagon to soldiers and aid workers on the front lines. In a straightforward language, they admit that the US government’s strategies were a mess, that the nation-building project was a colossal failure, and that drugs and corruption gained a stranglehold over their allies in the Afghan government. Unlike the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 had near-unanimous public support. At first, the goals were straightforward and clear: to defeat al-Qaeda and prevent a repeat of 9/11. Yet soon after the United States and its allies removed the Taliban from power, the mission veered off course and US officials lost sight of their original objectives. Distracted by the war in Iraq, the US military became mired in an unwinnable guerrilla conflict in a country it did not understand. But no president wanted to admit failure, especially in a war that began as a just cause. Instead, the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations sent more and more troops to Afghanistan and repeatedly said they were making progress, even though they knew there was no realistic prospect for an outright victory. The book covers all the reasons that lead the Afghanistan War to a colossal failure that should have been ended years ago. From the missed opportunities of diplomacy in 2001 to the lack of a clear strategy or goal for the war or even the lack of understanding of Afghanistan as a country and its culture. The failed campaigns to destroy the poppy and drug trade and the rampant corruption of the new Afghan government and its police and army and the nexus with corrupt contractors, this book covers it all in excruciating detail. Overall, The Afghanistan Papers is a grim account of criminal incompetence and a never-ending cycle of lies and failure, which lead to even worse failures. Coincidentally, this book was published right around the time US troops withdrew from Afghanistan and the Taliban took over the country in a matter of days. If you ever wondered, what went wrong for the US in Afghanistan, this book is a timely read. Many thanks to the publishers Simon & Schuster and Edelweiss for the ARC.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Brandon Westlake

    Wow, what an eye-opening book. I feel I could roughly give an overview of what happened in Afghanistan and why, and who the key players are but this book really fills in the details in a spectacular way. Furthermore, it shows what an outright tragedy it remains. A military escapade built on blunder and ignorance, mismanagement and idiocy. Whitlock's work will make it clear to you that this is a comedy of errors, and one on a massive deadly scale. It's hard to miss the connection to Vietnam. The s Wow, what an eye-opening book. I feel I could roughly give an overview of what happened in Afghanistan and why, and who the key players are but this book really fills in the details in a spectacular way. Furthermore, it shows what an outright tragedy it remains. A military escapade built on blunder and ignorance, mismanagement and idiocy. Whitlock's work will make it clear to you that this is a comedy of errors, and one on a massive deadly scale. It's hard to miss the connection to Vietnam. The sheer ignorance of our military and executive branch really frustrated me; at times making me walk away from reading and to come back later. My only criticism is that I would have like Whitlock to take the last few pages a step further- where does it seem to be going? What are the consequences of the US leaving vs staying? To be sure, it's easy to look back on history and see the screwups, but it's another thing that it was so blatantly obvious at the time. Once again, American exceptionalism seems to have gotten the better of us (and continues to do so). If you want an great overview of the quagmire, read this.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Umar Lee

    This is like watching a movie when you already know the ending. Short, sweet, and to the point this book details the numerous missteps from successive American administrations. Craig Whitlock particularly gives attention to the missteps of the US military and often contradictory directives from the Pentagon. A belief in American Exceptionalism, ignorance of Islam, an alliance with warlords, creating a class of corrupt Afghan millionaires, and a poorly choreographed counterinsurgency strategy. Th This is like watching a movie when you already know the ending. Short, sweet, and to the point this book details the numerous missteps from successive American administrations. Craig Whitlock particularly gives attention to the missteps of the US military and often contradictory directives from the Pentagon. A belief in American Exceptionalism, ignorance of Islam, an alliance with warlords, creating a class of corrupt Afghan millionaires, and a poorly choreographed counterinsurgency strategy. These are just some of the problems Whitlock details in this book. Whitlock also discusses a few issues I haven't seen American writers discuss in detail. First off a lot of Afghans liked and supported the Taliban as the deliverers of peace and order. The Taliban ended the opium trade and the US couldn't after twenty years and a trillion dollars. The second issue Whitlock discusses that Americans often neglect to address is the US had the opportunity to negotiate with the Taliban and integrate them into the Afghan political system in 2002 and failed to do so thus unnecessarily extending conflict. However, even bigger than those two issues, Whitlock gives a detailed account of how the US got sucked into a nation-building project. Yesterday the last US soldier left Afghanistan. When we arrived the Taliban were in power and now they've returned to power and appear to be stronger, wiser, and more competent. Oh, and by the way, Iraq is now politically-ran by a sectarian government with strong ties to Iran. I think we can officially say that whoever won the "War on Terror" it most certainly wasn't the United States of America. George W. Bush got us into this mess. Barack Obama knew this was a war that couldn't be won and so did Donald Trump. It took Joe Biden to have the courage to finally pull the plug. If you think we were there for human-rights and leaving represents the abandoning of our values you really need to read this book. Let's not repeat this mistake. Yeah, I know we will. Northern Virginia defense contractors and counter-terrorism strategists need to build more vacation homes and Tysons II needs an expansion.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Alexandru

    The cover-up of the failures of the United States in Afghanistan is monumental. General after general and president after president tried and then failed to bring the war to a satisfactory conclusion and then proceeded to hide this from the public. The human and financial waste in America's longest war is painful because it was all for nothing now that the Taliban have once again taken control of the country. Craig Whitlock painstakingly recounts every failure: - the missed opportunities of diplo The cover-up of the failures of the United States in Afghanistan is monumental. General after general and president after president tried and then failed to bring the war to a satisfactory conclusion and then proceeded to hide this from the public. The human and financial waste in America's longest war is painful because it was all for nothing now that the Taliban have once again taken control of the country. Craig Whitlock painstakingly recounts every failure: - the missed opportunities of diplomacy in 2001 when the Taliban was almost defeated and could have been brought to the negotiating table - the lack of a clear strategy or goal for the war. Ever since George W Bush sent the first American troops into Afghanistan there was never a stated end point. This continued in the Obama and Trump presidencies as more US troops were sent to Afghanistan without any goals and how to achieve them - the lack of understanding of Afghanistan as a country and its culture and people and the attempt to implement an American style system of government in a country which never knew what democracy was in its whole history - the numerous failed campaigns to destroy the poppy and drug trade (using pesticide, bombs, fire, machines, paying off people etc.) which actually increased after the US invaded Afghanistan -the rampant corruption of the new Afghan government and its police and army which many times proved to be worse and even more hated than the Taliban - the spending of billions upon billions of dollars of massive infrastructure projects without any planning or understanding if they would be useful or not (most of this was wasted simply because the Afghans either did not need or did not understand what things like power plants, dams, roads or even schools can do for them and their traditional way of life) - the failed attempt to build a professional army and police force in an extremely short time out of a population that was illiterate and split along tribal and ethnic lines (the Afghan soldiers usually sold their weapons, took drugs and had no motivation to fight the Taliban) All these failures and more are sourced from the documents which the author and his newspaper managed to obtain after long legal battles with the US government. The sources include memos and interviews of senior defense staff, generals, politicians, intelligence agents, diplomats and contractors from both the US and NATO countries. These sources are absolutely priceless and show that the army and US government was fully aware of the disaster but chose to present a different side of the story to the public.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Stefan Fergus

    Full review here: https://civilianreader.com/2021/08/22... A very good trove of information, but only 3/4 of a great book in my opinion. Full review here: https://civilianreader.com/2021/08/22... A very good trove of information, but only 3/4 of a great book in my opinion.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Courtney Tychinski

    This book started off very strong for me, but continued to seem more and more like a hodgepodge of everything that went wrong for the US in Afghanistan. The author pieces together a narrative through candid interviews records with high-serving US officials both in White House administrations and the military that he attained through the Freedom of Information Act. The [short] chapters provide an overview on how no one truly knew what the US's goals were in the war in Afghanistan. Just diminishin This book started off very strong for me, but continued to seem more and more like a hodgepodge of everything that went wrong for the US in Afghanistan. The author pieces together a narrative through candid interviews records with high-serving US officials both in White House administrations and the military that he attained through the Freedom of Information Act. The [short] chapters provide an overview on how no one truly knew what the US's goals were in the war in Afghanistan. Just diminishing al-Qaeda following 9/11? Punishing Afghanistan for harboring 9/11 conspirators? Nation-building? And when no one knows what the goals are, how do we measure "success" and "effectiveness" of US & NATO troops there? While I have no doubt that everything included is factual (and it left me questioning more and more the rationale behind a war that never seemed fully logical and has been going on since my childhood), I do question why the presentation is very one-sided, though the author is not shy to share faults of the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations. It is still a great read, and I would still recommend it, but I do also question why, of the thousands of hours of interviews, it seems like the author cherry-picked the remarks that make the administrations look the worst.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Mona

    Nonfiction writing at its best. Easily, one of the best American nonfiction novels of the year. I didn't expect anything less from a very experienced investigative journalist with tremendous back up of powerful The Washington Post. Extremely well researched and backed up with footnotes, extensive bibliography and in text descriptions of sources. This is a heaven for any sucker of detail data and clearly defined sources like myself. These days, many of so called nonfiction publications consider "a Nonfiction writing at its best. Easily, one of the best American nonfiction novels of the year. I didn't expect anything less from a very experienced investigative journalist with tremendous back up of powerful The Washington Post. Extremely well researched and backed up with footnotes, extensive bibliography and in text descriptions of sources. This is a heaven for any sucker of detail data and clearly defined sources like myself. These days, many of so called nonfiction publications consider "acknowledgements" to be a "bibliography". There is a significant difference folks, as this book exemplifies having both. Generally speaking it's about war in Afghanistan from the very beginning until the moment when Biden took over the office. Too bad the author didn't wait a bit longer to the "victorious" escape of Westerners from that country. Book describes military, political and social aspects of the war, which was clearly totally misunderstood by not only average Joe, but also by changing bipartisan leaders. War era of Bush and Obama is pretty detailed but I wish there would be more about Tramp's office time. Also, I would appreciate more details about the contractors involved in massive spending programs and other NATO countries involved in this war. This is a purely American point of view. I guess that was the author's focus considering his background. I consider this book to be politically pretty well balanced and a must read for any American who wants to know where his/her hard earned tax money go to. As far as the war is concerned.....the main difference between the third world countries and so called West, is not in a amount of money per se, but in a thinking simplicity or lack of such, created by money deficit or abundance. If a dog comes to your home and bites you, first you check yourself for rabies and then you discipline the dog adequately to the damage done. You don't spent 20 years, trillion dollars, numerous lives of yours and his friends including innocent bystanders, to make him look like a cat, behave like a cat and meow like a cat.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Alex Anderson

    Emptiness, curled like a worm at the centre of being. So, what then are the essential ingredients of evil? Is it like mum’s chicken soup, the secret jealously guarded family recipe silently passed down with a nod & a wink, from hand to hand in desultory fashion in a darkened, airless room? Conceit, cultural arrogance, blinkered worldview, power without accountability, lack of empathy ((artistic and otherwise), the inability to take others suffering seriously or as a matter of significance? Is it Emptiness, curled like a worm at the centre of being. So, what then are the essential ingredients of evil? Is it like mum’s chicken soup, the secret jealously guarded family recipe silently passed down with a nod & a wink, from hand to hand in desultory fashion in a darkened, airless room? Conceit, cultural arrogance, blinkered worldview, power without accountability, lack of empathy ((artistic and otherwise), the inability to take others suffering seriously or as a matter of significance? Is it an acceptance of a form without substance-each new manifestation of an eternal devil turning another countenance round and round as if on a breaking wheel? Arguably, this seems to have been a legacy of the United States since WWII as far as its military forays into other regions of the world are concerned. Perhaps, even a view that” “winning” is no longer the prime consideration, nor are there still targets of value that are really worth a shit, or even whether there ever were. I am not a pacifist, I am neither right nor left, I believe in an “eye for an eye” and a see the advantage in that old adage: if you’re gonna hit him first, hit him hard enough to ensure that he doesn’t come around to knock on your door when you’re not in the mood for company. These dark and conspiratorial thoughts beg more consideration from a deeper and more nuanced brain than mine-why indeed does the United States, a nation that is still so rich and powerful that it can march into almost any country in the world and change its regime without understanding much about it, repeat the same errors over and over again? I never believed in “my country, right or wrong” but I always believed that my country had the responsibility to be mostly right and to do its damnedest to make it right whenever it went wrong. Therefore, it is only natural for me to wonder what exactly is the basis of our standing ignorance and refusal to learn from history (our own and other nations’)? Why do we keep making these attempts at nation building only to succeed in creating failed states? Why do we persist in dedicating untold wealth to create unimaginable destruction, devastation & death when we have had it in our power to make profound changes which might result in other outcomes? This is a distressing, damning & depressing book. A book that reveals much (thanks to the Freedom of Information Act) which is appalling, but precious little that is surprising, about the world’s wealthiest nation waging unsuccessful war against one of its poorest. I wish that the reasons this book was written were untrue, I would like that a book like this could easily be shrugged off as conspiracy theorist paranoia by me. It can’t. Afghanistan has been called “The Graveyard of Nations” for a reason. The British were in there twice and lost. The Russians were in there for ten years and failed. America was over there for 20 years...and what? What did it accomplish? Those in power when we first went in are in power now. The credentials of the Taliban have now been well established. With 20 years of fighting the world’s premier military power, their credibility has been enhanced. The Taliban’s vicelike hold on power has subsequently been increased in orders of magnitude. As an extra-added bonus, an unexpected bonanza, the spoils of war left behind have recently replaced outdated weapon caches and upgraded them to state of the art military hardware weapon systems, courtesy of the American Taxpayer. Any tango’s wet dream . These people must now be convinced that they’ve just been handed the celestial lottery through a beneficent gesture from Allah. But there is more. This decision has put us, the USA, In the unenviable position where no other country can trust us when we offer our loyalty to it. Promises of support, guarantees to be there when the going gets tough, claims of kinship on ethical, moral or humanitarian grounds will be responded to with a guffaw at best, or perhaps just a well-earned, bitter scepticism of any claims in the future to a moral high ground. A blanket of cynicism has been tossed over any pretension to even the most mundane moral utterance. This attitude will have a solid basis on previous experiences of our past military relationships and inconsistent political policies. This perception will have interminable long-term consequences for us as future power brokers. The Afghanistan Papers is a chronicle of bewildering misconduct, corruption, malfeasance and dishonesty. It is the cataloging of criminal complacency, ignorance, stupidity, pointless death, waste, and a hydra’s head of other evils produced by America’s longest-standing war. This is a document of dark reportage from an inescapable hell of past events. Highlighting the complete and utter pointlessness of it all. Herein the story of an astounding lack of planning, leadership, vision, discipline, responsibility and moral ownership. It is a compendium offering up utter chaos, a chronology of the bloody ignorance, monumental stupidity, cynical dishonesty, blind foolishness & arbitrary emptiness of our bad conduct in Afghanistan. But there is a question that this manuscript of misfortune does not furnish an answer for: Why? An obvious question: “why, out of so many many of the other available options, did we choose such a path as this?”

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sebastian Gebski

    Mind-blowing story. Cool-headed analysis, which doesn't make you feel that the author tries to smoothen some inconvenient facts. Also, a good compromise between bringing only opinions (w/o underlying facts) and going too deeply into meaningless details (like all the operations performed by US Military). What did I like most? 1. there's plenty of details I've never seen/heard on the news 2. a lot of input has been ingested - all the quoted interviews and sources - tens or even hundreds of thousands of Mind-blowing story. Cool-headed analysis, which doesn't make you feel that the author tries to smoothen some inconvenient facts. Also, a good compromise between bringing only opinions (w/o underlying facts) and going too deeply into meaningless details (like all the operations performed by US Military). What did I like most? 1. there's plenty of details I've never seen/heard on the news 2. a lot of input has been ingested - all the quoted interviews and sources - tens or even hundreds of thousands of materials - respect for that 3. local polical aspect is minimized What didn't I like? 1. the moment of publishing was unfortunate, it feels like the book has lost its last chapter ... 2. I think it would make a lot of sense to add a bit more information about the past: e.g. why the British and USSR have lost in Afghanistan. Some details are mentioned occasionally, some you can deduct on the way, but I believe it would have helped in understanding what the US was encountering. Nevertheless, it's a brilliant book, truly worth the time (of reading) and money. Both thumbs up.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Steven Z.

    In 1971 the Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision, that the U.S. government had not met “the heavy burden of showing justification for the enforcement” of prior restraint. The Court ordered the immediate end of the injunctions against publication which led to the dissemination of the Pentagon Papers by the New York Times. The Pentagon Papers, officially titled Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force is a Defense Department history of the United States' political and m In 1971 the Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision, that the U.S. government had not met “the heavy burden of showing justification for the enforcement” of prior restraint. The Court ordered the immediate end of the injunctions against publication which led to the dissemination of the Pentagon Papers by the New York Times. The Pentagon Papers, officially titled Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force is a Defense Department history of the United States' political and military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. Though Washington Post national security reporter Craig Whitlock’s new book, THE AFGHANISTAN PAPERS: A SECRET HISTORY OF THE WAR does not rise to the level of the Pentagon Papers according to the author it is based on “interviews with more than a 1,000 people who played a direct part in the war. The Lessons Learned Interviews, oral histories and 59,000 Rumsfeld snowflakes comprise more than 10,000 pages of documents. Unedited and unfiltered, they reveal the voices of people – from those who made policy in Washington to those who fought in the mountains and deserts of Afghanistan – who knew the official version of the war being fed to the American people was untrue, or aggressively sanitized at best.” (xx) The publication of Whitlock’s monograph coincides with the disjointed American withdrawal from Afghanistan the last few weeks. The partisan debate that President Biden’s abrupt exit sparked creates the need for a more nuanced and objective analysis of the past 20 years since 9/11 and its is our good fortune as the war for America seems to have concluded a series of new historical monographs have emerged. Apart from Whitlock’s book readers can choose from Carter Malkasian’s THE AMERICAN WAR IN AFGHANISTAN: A HISTORY; David Loyn’s THE LONG WAR; Peter Bergen’s THE RISE AND FALL OF OSAMA BIN-LADIN; and Spencer Ackerman’s REIGN OF TERROR. There are also a number of works that have been written over the last decade that one might consult. The works of Steve Coll come to mind, GHOST WARS and DIRECTORATE S; also important are Dexter Filkins’ THE FOREVER WAR; Anand Gopal’s NO GOOD MEN AMONG THE LIVING; and Lawrence Wright’s THE LOOMING TOWER. A great deal of Whitlock’s commentary is similar to the observations of previous authors. However, what separates Whitlock’s narrative, analysis, and insights is that they are based on documentation and interviews of key commanders, soldiers on the ground, government officials, and even important foreign players who had significant roles in the war. Whitlock’s monograph is written in a concise and clear manner and his conclusions point to the disaster the war had become after removing the Taliban and al-Qaeda in 2002. Whitlock astutely points out that military strategists are always taught to never start a war without having a plan to end it. From the outset, the Bush administration never articulated how the war would be ended. For years, the American people were told the war would be difficult but on an incremental basis we were always winning. The happy talk of the Bush, Obama, and lastly the Trump administrations never measured up to events on the ground. Most historians and journalists agree the swift early American success in 2002 turned out to be a curse as it gave the Bush administration the confidence to change policy from hunting terrorists to nation building. Despite the arrogance of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the war turned against the Americans with this change in strategy, a dominant theme that Whitlock develops as it seemed periodically Washington would change strategies and commanders on a regular basis. One of the major problems American troops faced was that they could not distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys. For American troops Taliban and al-Qaeda were the same, a gross error in that the Taliban followed an extremist ideology and were Afghans, while al-Qaeda was made up of Arabs with a global presence who wanted to overthrow Middle Eastern autocrats allied with the United States. By 2002 the United States was fighting an enemy that had nothing to do with 9/11 which was the stated purpose of the war. The early success would deteriorate as the Bush administration shifted its focus to Iraq and removing Saddam Hussein from power. Troops, supplies, and funding dissipated quickly as Whitlock quotes numerous individuals whose frustration with Rumsfeld and company for their lack of interest and refusal to provide the necessary equipment, troops, and funding to bolster the American effort in Afghanistan only providing the minimum level of support to keep the war going. Whitlock organizes his narrative around American errors, the corruption of the Afghan government, and the refusal of American leadership to face the facts on the battlefield. Similar to the overall war strategy the nation-building campaign suffered from an obvious lack of goals and benchmarks. The idea of imposing an American style democracy on a country with no foundation or history of the elements of that type of governmental system was idiotic from the outset and no matter what fantasy the Bush administration could cobble together preordained its failure. Whitlock presents a number of important chapters chief among them is “Raising an Army from the Ashes” in which he describes the issues in constructing an army from scratch. The entire episode portended the results witnessed a few weeks ago when a 300,000 man army collapsed and faded away when confronted by the Taliban. Other chapters point to the basic complaint by officers and troops of the lack of preparation in understanding Afghan culture which led to many disastrous decisions. Another key issue was the role of Pakistan which had its own agenda visa vie the Taliban and indirectly its fears of India. By creating a sanctuary for the insurgency, it made the American task very difficult. Whitlock’s insightful analysis mirrors that of Steve Coll’s DIRECTORATE S as it explains ISI duplicity and the fact that the Islamabad government knew how to play both ends against the middle to gain American financial and military support in return for very little. American errors are numerous as recounted by Whitlock. Flooding the country with money for projects that were not needed or absorbable was very detrimental to the American mission. Support for Hamid Karzai and his corrupt regime, along with alliances with murderous warlords was self-defeating. Trying to eradicate the opium trade was high minded, but with no alternate source of income Afghan farmers and warlords learned to manipulate the American strategy to reduce the drug trade was very problematical. Whitlock introduces the major players in the war from Rumsfeld, Cheney, McChrystal, Petraeus, Obama, and Trump with all of the flaws exhibited by their thinking that led to failure. Whether implementing counterinsurgency, huge infrastructure projects, building inside enemy territory, and Petraeus’ strategy of being “hellbent at throwing money at problems” was doomed to failure. The bottom line as Army Lt-General Douglas Lute, a Director of Operations for the Joint Staff at the Pentagon states is that “we were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan-we didn’t know what we were doing…What are we doing here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking…There is a fundamental gap of understanding on the front end, overstated objectives, an overreliance on the military, and a lack of understanding of the resources necessary.” (110) The Trump administration would run into the same roadblocks in trying to ameliorate the situation on the ground in Afghanistan. Trump’s tough talk about “winning,” increased bombing that resulted in higher death counts for civilians, and more happy talk did not accomplish much. It was clear once Trump’s promises “to deliver ‘clear cut victory’ had failed he ordered the state Department and Pentagon to engage in formal, face to face negotiations with the Taliban to find a way to extricate U.S. troops from Afghanistan without making it seem like a humiliating defeat.” (264) For over a decade American policy makers and commanders knew that a lasting military defeat of the Taliban was not in the cards as they were a Pashtun-led mass movement that represented a sizable portion of the population and continued to gain strength. However, the Bush and Obama administrations made only half-hearted attempts to engage the Taliban, deferring to the Afghan government in the diplomatic process which they would paralyze. The U.S. would squander attempts at a negotiated settlement in 2001 by excluding the Taliban from the Bonn Conference, three years later they did not take advantage of the democratic election of Hamid Karzai as president to implement the diplomatic process. By 2009 the Obama administration took a hardline approach with its “reconciliation” requirements dooming any hope for talks to begin and progress as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other important policy makers believed that the Taliban would never desert al-Qaeda. The Trump administration finally negotiated a deal whereby all U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021. Like his predecessors Trump failed to make good on his promise to prevail in Afghanistan or bring what he mocked as “the forever war” to completion. Instead, he left an inheritance to Joe Biden who chose not to renege on Trump’s settlement with the Taliban to avoid further warfare. This provoked a firestorm among conservative Republicans and veteran’s groups, many of which had argued against continuing the war for a number of years. Many have chosen to blame Biden for an abrupt withdrawal from Afghanistan and a Taliban victory, however that result was because of two decades of obfuscation and a war strategy that was doomed to failure once we turned our attention to Iraq and took our foot off the pedal that drove the war in Afghanistan. No matter what successes were repeatedly announced publicly by the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations spokespersons, in private they knew that Afghan security forces showed little progress in safeguarding the country, the Taliban retained safe havens in Pakistan, and corruption pervaded Afghan governments alienating and angering people. If there is one theme that dominates Whitlock’s analysis is that “U.S. leaders knew their war strategy was dysfunctional and privately doubted they could attain their objectives. Yet they confidently told the public year after year that they were making progress and that victory—winning was over the horizon.” (277) Whitlock makes it clear that “it was impossible to square negative trends with the optimistic public messaging about progress, so US officials kept the complete datasets confidential.” (205) After reading Whitlock’s book it is clear that the US mission in Afghanistan was doomed to failure once we turned to nation building. Whitlock the first important synthesis of the most basic and essential elements that led to the American withdrawal. For those who need a quick primer or a thoughtful approach to the conduct of the war, Whitlock’s monograph is critical for our understanding as to what went wrong.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Peg - The History Shelf

    You can read my review published at Shelf Awareness: https://www.shelf-awareness.com/reade... You can read my review published at Shelf Awareness: https://www.shelf-awareness.com/reade...

  15. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    This is what winning looks like. -- Feb. 2013, General John Allen, Commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan. I chose the above quote somewhat randomly. Variations of the same hollow rhetoric, from virtually every major American military figure associated with Afghanistan, appear every couple of pages in Craig Whitlock's devastating account of the history of the war in Afghanistan. And it isn't just the military, since both Republican and Democratic administrations also employed political happy tal This is what winning looks like. -- Feb. 2013, General John Allen, Commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan. I chose the above quote somewhat randomly. Variations of the same hollow rhetoric, from virtually every major American military figure associated with Afghanistan, appear every couple of pages in Craig Whitlock's devastating account of the history of the war in Afghanistan. And it isn't just the military, since both Republican and Democratic administrations also employed political happy talk when it came to discussing the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan. From nearly the very beginning, with the U.S. invasion back in 2001, no one really knew what to do with the country after it fell. Bush insisted that they were not there to nation build, but that's exactly what we were doing, but with little understanding of the country and its people. Obama continued many of the same policies, but also pumped oceans of money into the county, but with no real meaningful plan or plans for real change. It did raise the levels of corruption to unbelievable levels in a country struggling to establish a fragile and probably already doomed democracy. (In some respects, in comparison, Vietnam was a real run enterprise.) One irony that jumps out at you from the beginning is that a chief source for Whitlock's book was a project by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) titled (unbelievably) "Lessons Learned." The purpose of the project was to interview numerous (military, political, etc.) figures associated with the war to identify mistakes made. If you know anything at all about the Vietnam conflict, it is as if we didn't learn a single thing thing from that earlier war. If anything, we do things more stupidly now. Interestingly, at the very end of the book, one political figure who had grown skeptical of the war back in 2009, Joe Biden, was finally in a position to something about it. And did.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Omama.

    “after Trump lost his bid for reelection, he ordered the military to reduce the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan to 2,500 by the end of his term in January 2021. That marked the smallest U.S. troop presence since December 2001, back when Afghanistan seemed like a manageable, short-term challenge. At the time, the Taliban had surrendered its last stronghold in Kandahar, U.S. troops had bin Laden pinned down in Tora Bora, and most Americans thought they had decisively won a brief war in a faraw “after Trump lost his bid for reelection, he ordered the military to reduce the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan to 2,500 by the end of his term in January 2021. That marked the smallest U.S. troop presence since December 2001, back when Afghanistan seemed like a manageable, short-term challenge. At the time, the Taliban had surrendered its last stronghold in Kandahar, U.S. troops had bin Laden pinned down in Tora Bora, and most Americans thought they had decisively won a brief war in a faraway land. For the next two decades, as the conflict degenerated and the quagmire deepened, their leaders lied about what was happening and kept insisting they were making progress. Like Bush and Obama, Trump failed to make good on his promise to prevail in Afghanistan or to bring what he mocked as “the forever war” to completion. Instead, he handed the unfinished campaign to his political rival, Joseph Biden, the fourth commander in chief to oversee the longest armed conflict in American history.” What a fine account of America’s failure in Afghanistan’s terrorism reducing & nation-building process, spanning over 20 years. This is based almost exclusively on public documents: notes of interviews with more than 1,000 people who played a direct role in the U.S. war in Afghanistan, as well as hundreds of Defense Department memos, State Department cables and other government reports. I believe this is the book that will go down as the definitive account of war in Afghanistan for generations to come.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    Excellent overview of the strategic and policy aspects of US involvement in Afghanistan. Doesn't fall into the trap of focusing on one specific unit, policy, or commander, but overs the entire 20 year war with the same level of analysis. Nothing in this was particularly surprising to me (I was in Afghanistan for a couple years, and have compulsively read almost everything I can find about the conflict...), but it's an excellent presentation and seems to my experience to be accurate. The only erro Excellent overview of the strategic and policy aspects of US involvement in Afghanistan. Doesn't fall into the trap of focusing on one specific unit, policy, or commander, but overs the entire 20 year war with the same level of analysis. Nothing in this was particularly surprising to me (I was in Afghanistan for a couple years, and have compulsively read almost everything I can find about the conflict...), but it's an excellent presentation and seems to my experience to be accurate. The only errors were maybe not applying enough tactical detail in specific areas (the CIA/SF 2001 operations, best covered by First In, and the imperial scale of Bagram and KAF, which I've not seen covered anywhere, and the insane wastefulness of contractor/military operations in building stuff), but there are other books for those details -- for the broad overview, this is probably the best book on the US-Afghanistan war yet written, and probably will be the definitive version for history.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Angus McKeogh

    Much like the war, I think I’ve just tired on this topic. Just a litany of government and military decisions which were ill-informed, bold-faced lies, or complete incompetence. Twenty years of poor choices and a lack of direction on the other side of the planet. Moreover, the massive corruption of the region as well as our cultural view of the Taliban and how that actually contrasts with how they are viewed by locals. Senseless deaths and no accountability. An informative and decent read but per Much like the war, I think I’ve just tired on this topic. Just a litany of government and military decisions which were ill-informed, bold-faced lies, or complete incompetence. Twenty years of poor choices and a lack of direction on the other side of the planet. Moreover, the massive corruption of the region as well as our cultural view of the Taliban and how that actually contrasts with how they are viewed by locals. Senseless deaths and no accountability. An informative and decent read but perhaps I need a little space from the topic before it’ll enthrall me again in book form.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Xia Yana

    This is an excellent, albeit difficult read. A scathing criticism of the lack of strategy and understanding of the situation on the ground that led to a 20-year engagement of the United States in Afghanistan, often putting the politicians, military, and diplomats in a catch-22. While the deployment seemed justified in 2001, it was not really justifiable five or ten years later. The author makes excellent points about the role of Pakistan and explains on concrete examples why nation-building coul This is an excellent, albeit difficult read. A scathing criticism of the lack of strategy and understanding of the situation on the ground that led to a 20-year engagement of the United States in Afghanistan, often putting the politicians, military, and diplomats in a catch-22. While the deployment seemed justified in 2001, it was not really justifiable five or ten years later. The author makes excellent points about the role of Pakistan and explains on concrete examples why nation-building could not work. After reading this, you cannot but understand that Biden made a difficult, yet entirely logical decision to end the US engagement.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    And, once again the hoary shadow of American Exceptionalism rears it's ugly head. "We don't have to try to understand their excuse for a culture. They just want to be like us. You know, same as the Vietnamese and the Iraqis!" This is an even-handed (43, 44 and 45 all screwed it up) description of a "war" that America certainly should have ended with the death of Bin Ladin but just kept on keeping on. The descriptions of the rampant theft and corruption are just mind-numbing and the lies, everybo And, once again the hoary shadow of American Exceptionalism rears it's ugly head. "We don't have to try to understand their excuse for a culture. They just want to be like us. You know, same as the Vietnamese and the Iraqis!" This is an even-handed (43, 44 and 45 all screwed it up) description of a "war" that America certainly should have ended with the death of Bin Ladin but just kept on keeping on. The descriptions of the rampant theft and corruption are just mind-numbing and the lies, everybody lying all the time. This is not a pleasant read but a necessary one.

  21. 4 out of 5

    James Murray

    I highly recommend this non-fiction book for understanding what has happened in Afghanistan, both historically and in regard to the recent withdrawal of US forces from there. It's logically presented and reads well for a clear understanding of the country, its culture and its politics. I highly recommend this non-fiction book for understanding what has happened in Afghanistan, both historically and in regard to the recent withdrawal of US forces from there. It's logically presented and reads well for a clear understanding of the country, its culture and its politics.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Mcilhenny

    Surprise surprise u can't buy a war Surprise surprise u can't buy a war

  23. 4 out of 5

    Lorin Duckman

    Follow the Dope A good review of the inanity and insanity. Afghanistan for the afghanis. So many different people involved who didn’t have a clue. Just another failed CIA plot to Americanize other places. The book should be required reading along with Caravans by Michener, and Restrepo/Korengal. OOps, not OPs, don’t forget Kipling. The book needed pictures of the places and the people.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nadia

    Probably needs to be read by all - and specifically by future and current military, policy makers, foreign politics students, and diplomats… so this never happens again. The general US citizen also needs to read it so we understand why are votes really matter - the vote we make can cause a war that will be hard to ever end and when it does end, it will never be able to end cleanly because it didn’t start with a clear plan and so it cant end with a clear plan

  25. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    Very informative

  26. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Buermann

    The funniest thing about this book is how President Donald J. Trump only comes off as dishonest as his immediate predecessors. I suppose that would only be possible in a catalog of lies. This book is a catalog of lies. Twenty years and anybody who told the truth got fired -- if not imprisoned -- for the offense. The most annoying thing is that it follows the WaPo style guide that seemingly instructs writers to dwell on occupation casualties while treating Afghans like they're CGI extras in a disa The funniest thing about this book is how President Donald J. Trump only comes off as dishonest as his immediate predecessors. I suppose that would only be possible in a catalog of lies. This book is a catalog of lies. Twenty years and anybody who told the truth got fired -- if not imprisoned -- for the offense. The most annoying thing is that it follows the WaPo style guide that seemingly instructs writers to dwell on occupation casualties while treating Afghans like they're CGI extras in a disaster movie. At the beginning of Chapter 8, "Lies and Spin", a paragraph gives brief biological sketches of three foreign soldiers killed in a suicide attack -- down to one's love of lollipops -- while the "twenty Afghan laborers who came to the base that day looking for work" are barely afterthoughts. An ironic tension, amidst the barrage of lies, is when officials are being too honest. Nobody likes Obama announcing an upfront deadline to his surge, but then everybody complaining about how deadlines make the policy untenable -- to appear "credible" his war council all want an open ended commitment unto perpetuity -- go right ahead and tell him it'll work anyway, lying to their commander in chief. Pretty amazing! Almost like none of them cared if anything would work, they just wanted to keep fighting, to an end none of them were ever able to envision. Everybody lies about Afghan casualties. Nonstop cover-ups. There's hardly any effort to account for the enemy let alone the innocents. A US airstrike leveling part of Azizabad in 2008 killed dozens of children and the DoD kept lying about it until USA Today finally uncovered the story in 2019. The same goes for anti-drug and reconstruction and pacification and rehabilitation efforts. New programs to repeat previous programs' failures are grandly announced and produce new streams of data that are proudly published until they make the program look bad and then the data is classified and the program is quietly shut down, over and over again. The US government has set up a lot of kleptocratic dictatorships over the years, genocidally at times, 'standing up as we cover it up.' One has to ponder why that proved impossible in Afghanistan, and there's plenty of gristle to chew on here. One thing that strikes me is the incredible amount of the scamming by the people we put in charge of the government being run against the occupation itself. If you think about the tax base for the Afghan kleptocracy the opium exports probably amount to 50 billion over 20 years. Compare that to the tax base of American aid and occupation contracts over that same span and the opium is dwarfed at least 4 to 1. In a kleptocracy like Mobutu's Congo the American aid mostly went to securing the regime, and the regime had useful raw resources to integrate into Western markets, the lower rungs of society were still needed to work the mines to keep the wheels of graft turning, so there was some bare fraying thread of reciprocity left between a working class and its ruler's middle management through a functional patronage system. But in Afghanistan so many foreign dollars were flowing and swallowed by corruption (much of that also flowing to the Taliban) that anybody not in on the racket with two stones left to rub together were going to be shaken down by that racket until they had nothing left. Then they'd join the Taliban. I kept coming across quotes from the exit interviews of US officials that sounded like they were lifted out of Anand Gopal's "No Good Men Among the Living," describing the different ways the Afghan government's recruitment drive for the insurgency worked. What did the Taliban need the ISI for? This book gives a chapter to discussion of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency. Everybody knows the ISI is involved but nobody knows the first fucking thing about what they're doing, what they did. I'm not sure how the Pakistanis are so good at evading US signals intelligence, which permeates every communications network on the planet, but for all the Post's FOIA requests have to show for it the ISI operates entirely by word of mouth. There's a certain kind of Atlantic Council/Kissinger & Associates groupie that, anytime anybody reports something they don't like about Afghanistan without mentioning the ISI their freshly pressed trousers wad way up their buttcrack, "well they're just not being serious, where's the ISI!?" They never have any idea what to do about the ISI, mind you, but they very much demand that the ISI take their share of the blame, a real "everybody made mistakes" move. I think a key thing to understand about this entire war is that the United States knew, and everybody in charge remembered, how instrumental the ISI was to both the US funded insurgency against the Soviets and the subsequent formation of the Taliban to end the civil war the unmanaged aftermath of Operation Cyclone left behind. It's obvious that Pakistan's leadership is invested in Afghanistan and take their interests there seriously. The Taliban were their proxies, if we install a new government, who will be Pakistan's new proxies? That should have been at the top of the Bush administration's mind before they started the war. So when the Bush administration went barging back in and restarted that civil war just two years after it had 'ended' he cut the Taliban entirely out, just like he would later disastrously do to the Baath Party and the army in Iraq. No quarter was given, top to bottom, dividing the country straight down all the exact same cracks. At the top, that meant cutting Pakistan out of any of the influence it might have had in the new government on its long and unguarded western border, where it also had its own autonomous tribes occasionally producing trouble -- radicalized in the same corrupting influences that came along with Operation Cyclone -- and which the progress of the war would make orders of magnitude more dangerous and troublesome, with groups now dedicated to the overthrow of the Pakistani government because the Pakistani government gave America permission to bomb their villages. Any text that includes the testimony of Afghan government officials by necessity will talk about the ISI, since they very much liked to blame all their problems on Pakistan, and not at all disingenuously: most of them had just been defeated by Pakistan, they were old enemies. There's a quote at the end of the chapter (p.87) where Ambassador Ryan Crocker recounts a discussion he had with Lt. Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, the head of the ISI: "[Kayani] says, 'You know, I know you think we're hedging our bets, you're right, we are because one day you'll be gone again, it'll be like Afghanistan the first time, you'll be done with us, but we're still going to be here because we can't actually move the country. And the last thing we want with all of our other problems is to have turned the Taliban into a mortal enemy, so, yes, we're hedging our bets.'" Pakistan is a nuclear power with a credible nuclear deterrent pointed at nuclear-armed India. They both have interests in Afghanistan. Among others, Pakistan in preventing trouble at its border, and India in making trouble on Pakistan's border. We're governed by monsters, but even our monsters do not want to get kicked out of the country club for their role in last year's nuclear holocaust. So what is anyone supposed to do about the ISI's backing of the Taliban (dollars being fungible, paid for by the American tax payer to try and bribe Pakistan into supporting their old enemies next door: kleptocracy was built into this arrangement from the start) when you've already cut them out of the deal? We tried to bribe them when they needed influence. And by the time the US got around to hosting talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, the Taliban had not so much already won as the Afghan government already lost, unrecoverably, and American leaders knew it, and just kept lying about it. America's mendocracy turned Afghanistan into a failed kleptocracy because the Bush administration refused to submit to Jesus and offer clemency to the hosts of its enemy, antagonizing Pakistan's stratocracy. The Taliban had won by 2003, when Rumsfeld wrote that memo complaining that he had no idea "who the bad guys are", when his most dangerous enemy was the government he'd just established. Everything that followed was cognitive dissonance.

  27. 5 out of 5

    E. C. Koch

    Modeled after the so-called Pentagon Papers – the clandestine documents published by the Washington Post that exposed how the Pentagon was convinced that the Vietnam War was unwinnable long before we finally got out of southeast Asia – Whitlock’s book documents how the Pentagon was convinced that the Afghanistan War was unwinnable long before we got out of central Asia. The problems involved are myriad, of course, and include a very fuzzy definition of victory, total ignorance of Afghan cultural Modeled after the so-called Pentagon Papers – the clandestine documents published by the Washington Post that exposed how the Pentagon was convinced that the Vietnam War was unwinnable long before we finally got out of southeast Asia – Whitlock’s book documents how the Pentagon was convinced that the Afghanistan War was unwinnable long before we got out of central Asia. The problems involved are myriad, of course, and include a very fuzzy definition of victory, total ignorance of Afghan cultural life, and an inability to take up the job of nation-building responsibly (which here means taking two centuries, not two decades, to build the nation into what we thought we wanted). It’s this last aspect of the War that I knew the least about and is also where a whole fucking lot of money was wasted (the conspiracy theorist part of me wants to read the protraction of the War as evidence of the moral corruption engendered by capitalist enterprises (which might not be entirely wrong)). Anyhow, the last fifteen or so years of the War were spent trying to get Afghan democracy off the ground, which involved, you know, teaching a whole bunch of people about how we do democracy (and maybe we’re not the best example to choose from or the best teachers). How we do democracy here, at least, involves a massive military and a massive domestic police force, so we made sure that Afghanistan had those things too. We poured money (billions of dollars we’re talking here) into the training of this fledgling democracy’s security apparatus, training people who’s loyalties lay not with Afghanistan nor with America nor even with the Taliban or their own ethnic tribes, but with money. These guys, it turns out, couldn’t read or count or tell time (or even comprehend our cultural notion of time) or fire a gun effectively and weren’t motivated to learn because they were in it to get paid. After getting paid they’d leave and go home, and, what do you know?, their names would be left on the roles so it looked like the Afghan military was strengthening when in reality it remained as weak as ever. (By the way, the guys in charge of the Afghan army kept the salaries of all those ghost billets, which is where some of those billions went.) This is why every time in the last decade the US tried to move forces out of Afghanistan and wind down the war and let the Afghan army take over and take care of themselves we had to come back a year later with even more troops—this cycle of Kafkaesque bureaucratic schizophrenia was all predicated on Pentagon and White House administration functionaries believing their own mischaracterizations of a War that was doomed to failure. To say that I came away from reading this frustrated would be an understatement; it’s hard for me to comprehend just how much money was wasted and how many lives were ruined on a War that stopped making sense a long time ago (and maybe never made sense). But there’s something missing from Whitlock’s book. He places the blame for this mother of all boondoggles on the US government and the corruption of the Afghan government (which the US government abetted, making them just doubly blameworthy). And while much blame is deservedly leveled at the Bush, Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations, the thing that’s different about this War in comparison to the Vietnam War – a comparison that Whitlock invites with his title – is public outrage and protest. This is what’s missing from the book, the protests that never happened against the War that should never have happened. Where is the anti-War movement? Where are the action committees? Where are the peaceniks? And so part of my profound frustration is with myself, for not spending every day of the last twenty years doing something about this. I’m guessing that the political bent of individual readers will determine whether they A. pick this up and B. finish it, but this is, nevertheless, a good book that, just like the subject it’s about, won’t get as much attention as it deserves.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Craig Amason

    If even half of what Whitlock reveals in this eye-opening overview of the U.S. involvement in the Afghanistan War is accurate, then this will have to be one of the most painful chapters in the history of American foreign policy. From the overwhelming cultural illiteracy of the government and military leaders about Afghanistan to the complete lack of strategy and clear objectives for our country's engagement, this twenty-year conflict was a colossal waste of lives, money, and resources. As was th If even half of what Whitlock reveals in this eye-opening overview of the U.S. involvement in the Afghanistan War is accurate, then this will have to be one of the most painful chapters in the history of American foreign policy. From the overwhelming cultural illiteracy of the government and military leaders about Afghanistan to the complete lack of strategy and clear objectives for our country's engagement, this twenty-year conflict was a colossal waste of lives, money, and resources. As was the case with the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, American intervention failed on almost every imaginable level, resulting in tragic loss of life for so many members of our military and Afghan soldiers and civilians. If I never hear the term "nation building" again, that will be fine with me. America has been trying to export representative government around the world since 1945. It doesn't work, and it never will. The true authenticity of Whitlock's book derives from its heavy reliance on oral history interviews with military personnel, from foot soldiers up to brass. Of course, one could argue that inherent biases from subjects being too close to the action is a fair criticism, but I believe Whitlock's own research and documentation help round out the picture. Speaking of objectivity, no administration comes out unscathed under the broad light Whitlock casts here, from Bush's invasion to Biden's commitment to finally and completely withdraw (the book was released before the actual airlifts began). Some of the more astounding revelations include: *How isolated and uneducated many of the Afghan soldiers were. *How difficult it was to train Afghan soldiers to fight efficiently and strategically. *How fractured both the Taliban and the Afghan leadership was in the region. *How corrupt the existing Afghan leadership was, even when supported by the U.S. *How easy it was for American officials to be deceived and even manipulated by tribal leaders. *How little State Department officials and military leaders understood about the culture. *How America's attempt to eradicate the poppy industry in Afghanistan was so misguided. *How often U.S. government and military leaders disseminated false information to the American public to save face or garner support. Many books have been published about the war in Afghanistan over the last 20 years, and there will be many more written with the added advantage of hindsight, unclassified documents, and more candid testimony from some of the key players. Whitlock's book is an overview from the perspective of America's exit from the country. The subsequent studies that explore the legacy of this failed mission will be even more painful to read, but we need to read them and face the truth about these two dark decades. With any luck, perhaps future administrations will learn from the mistakes and avoid the quagmire of yet another endless war.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Morrissey

    What would victory have looked like in Afghanistan? The reason that question is so hard to answer amidst the evacuation of American troops, civilians and Afghani compatriots in 2021 is that victory was never clearly defined in any year of the war since 2001. President Bush and Obama both declared victory, but in a pure political messaging ploy, while US soldiers fought, bled and died for nation-building activities. If the Second World War is the United States' most well-managed conflict - keen fo What would victory have looked like in Afghanistan? The reason that question is so hard to answer amidst the evacuation of American troops, civilians and Afghani compatriots in 2021 is that victory was never clearly defined in any year of the war since 2001. President Bush and Obama both declared victory, but in a pure political messaging ploy, while US soldiers fought, bled and died for nation-building activities. If the Second World War is the United States' most well-managed conflict - keen focus on strategy; limitless material resources; clear tactical objectives - the Afghanistan War must rank as one of the worst-managed. At the beginning, the Bush administration failed to put enough boots on the ground to corner and capture Osama bin laden in the hilly terrain of Tora Bora. In addition, Bush, Rumsfeld and Tommy Franks became enamored with democratizing another Middle East country: Iraq. While Iraq sucked away money and troops, the Taliban reconstituted itself as a potent enemy and popular movement among the majority-Pashtun Afghani population. The war seemed to fare no better under Obama. Despite a troop surge at the beginning of his first term, Obama, like Bush, failed to set clear strategic objectives. What the men and women on the ground report is that there were, at best, tactical missions and objectives, but no overall strategy. Were we nation-building Afghanistan? Did we want a flourishing democracy, or merely a safer harbor from terrorists designing attacks on the US homeland? Obama brought good tactics, but utterly failed to deliver anything remotely close to good strategy. Craig Whitlock unlocks this and so much more in his investigative reporting, reviewing thousands of pages of documents where generals, soldiers, aid workers, and Afghanis clandestinely criticize the US war, all while politicians and pundits proclaim that we have "turned the corner." One of the more potent symbols of the war described in the book is a US-built police station in one of Afghanistan's rural provinces. The structure is beautiful, gleaming glass and new amenities that would fit in any suburban American town. One problem arose, though: the locals could not figure out how to use the door handles. No one had apparently asked for Afghani input on the design, structure and fixtures, a small encapsulation of how woefully inept the US war and reconstruction effort was. Vietnam and Afghanistan will remain intertwined as not only lost war efforts, but watersheds in the disillusionment of American citizens in how their leaders misled, deceived, and lied their way to election victories at home, all while consigning American troops and Afghanis to a woeful war effort that could never succeed.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Erica Robbin

    Wow was this book comprehensive! It really satisfied my wondering of a lot of events. I listened via audiobook, narrated by Dan Bittner who was excellent. Clear and precise, I liked his voice inflection. I’d recommend this book to anyone. It’s great for anyone just learning the history of Afghanistan from a social, economic, and political standpoint as well as anyone curious as to what has gone on for the past 20 years, whether it relates to certain characteristics about the country, civilians, Wow was this book comprehensive! It really satisfied my wondering of a lot of events. I listened via audiobook, narrated by Dan Bittner who was excellent. Clear and precise, I liked his voice inflection. I’d recommend this book to anyone. It’s great for anyone just learning the history of Afghanistan from a social, economic, and political standpoint as well as anyone curious as to what has gone on for the past 20 years, whether it relates to certain characteristics about the country, civilians, jihadis, military operations, or terrorists. Topics I Spent a Lot of Time Thinking About: -The complexities of the War in Afghanistan. -High value targets. -Post war occupation. -What motivated enemies to fight, how they went about finding and identifying the enemy. -Refuted operations. -1/3 at risk for salvation. -The buildings and barracks built to support them. Examples of all sorts of hazards where cultural norms did not mesh with one another. Examples such as mistaking urinals for drinking fountains and toilets, draping soaking clothes over electric heaters, uniforms came in a variety of sizes, never having had their feet measured and different sized footwear. -What was the expectation and goal in educating and assist the poorest and least educated in the world? -Post 9/11 response. -What was the strategy? -What was the goal? -An attack about a group no one knew anything about. -Who exactly had advanced knowledge of the 9/11 attacks? -The hazy idea of who anyone was fighting. Who exactly were the terrorists? -Why did anyone want to defeat Al Qaeda? The Taliban? -Was was everyone's understanding of what their motivations were to fight? Capabilities? -Complex tribal dynamics. -What was required to help rebuild the country after U.S. intervention, following the bombings in October, 2001? -What was the underpinning of building a systematic government in a country that doesn’t operate that way? -Interesting outcomes and analysis of countries such as Haiti, Balkins, and Somalia. -Nato forces and scrutiny. -Opium. The history of opium poppy cultivation, cash crops, interventions, what does and doesn’t result in drug related crime. Why opium? Why would they continue to produce 90% of the world’s illegal opium? -What was foretelling. -Corruption and sabotage of the war. -Unverified inaccurate data. -Definitions of success. -Burying the extent of the problem. -Audits. -Entanglement new tactics. It’s one I could listen to over and over again and always come out learning something new. Blog post

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...