United States officials have consistently misled the public on the country’s longest-running war, according to internal government documents obtained by the Washington Post.
The trove of over 2,000 pages includes previously unpublished notes from a federal project examining the failures of the US war strategy in Afghanistan, the newspaper reported on Monday.
The documents include comments from top military commanders and diplomats. The Post won the right to publish them following a three-year legal battle, exposing sometimes blunt assessments of the war.
“If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction … 2,400 lives lost,” Douglas Lute, the three-star Army general who led the war effort under former presidents George W Bush and Barack Obama, told interviewers working on the project in 2015, referring to the US death toll in the war.
“What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”
The US Agency for International Development, the Pentagon and the State Department have spent or allocated between $934bn and $978bn on the war and rebuilding efforts, according to an assessment from Neta Crawford, a political science professor and co-director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University, cited by the Post.
That sum does not include expenditures from the CIA, the Department of Veterans Affairs, or other relevant agencies.
“What did we get for this one trillion dollar effort? Was it worth one trillion dollars?” Jeffrey Eggers, a Bush and Obama White House staffer and former Navy SEAL, said.
Military commanders throughout the war publicly talked about their hopes that the conflict in Afghanistan was turning a corner, even as the Taliban held on to large parts of the country and killed US and Afghan forces – without having any air combat capability.
Still, US military leaders have periodically talked about their concerns about the war, particularly when seeking increases in troops or in capabilities needed to fight the Taliban.
John Sopko, head of the federal agency that conducted the interviews, acknowledged to the newspaper that the documents show “the American people have constantly been lied to.”
The disclosure comes as US President Donald Trump and the Pentagon look to draw down the number of forces in Afghanistan to focus more on battling al-Qaeda and ISIL (or ISIS), as the administration hopes for a peace deal with the Taliban.
US President Donald Trump halted a previous round of meetings with the Taliban in September following the killing of a US soldier.
In a surprise visit to Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan in November, Trump said that the US forces were to stay in the country “until such time as we have a deal, or we have total victory, and they want to make a deal very badly.”
Some 13,000 US troops remain in Afghanistan and the Taliban pose a continued threat to the Western-backed Afghan government.