According to the recently published “Afghanistan Papers,” for over eighteen years, U.S. civilian and military leaders have been simultaneously clueless and deceptive.

“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” said Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations.

“If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction … 2,400 lives lost,” Lute added, blaming the deaths of U.S. military personnel on bureaucratic breakdowns among Congress, the Pentagon, and the State Department.  “Who will say this was in vain?”

While I was assigned to the U.S. military headquarters in Afghanistan, the most commonly used phrase in reports coming from all echelons and locations was “progress is being made.”  At that time, the war was being fought, and probably still is, through PowerPoint presentations.  As long as the slides said so, then “progress was being made.”

It was then and still is a façade. The only real progress being made is by the Taliban.

The lack of fundamental understanding of the conflict has been exacerbated by military and civilian organizations and processes in Afghanistan that were complicated and convoluted.

There were then numerous stove-piped and redundant programs operating in parallel, which provided little more than a collection of simultaneous arguments. The information being generated and shared was far greater than any organization could absorb, let alone analyze and understand.

There can be, quite literally, “too much going on.” With so many people doing so much with so little situational comprehension, motion becomes the equivalent of progress, and the emphasis quickly shifted from an effective process to simply maintaining a smooth one.

It was a program on automatic pilot, where everyone was being reassured that everything was going according to plan. Despite the fact that symptoms of failure were already known, no one in the chain of command spoke up, and, hence, no one should be surprised about where we are now.

As one moves up the bureaucratic ladder, the tendency to give and accept happy talk increases. Negative views can be expressed only as whispers in private conversations. Public criticism is suicide, and, contrary to popular belief, changing the system from within is at best serendipity or at worst urban myth.

Afghanistan policy has been characterized by a laissez-faire attitude toward demonstrable progress, where the appearance rather than the substance of success is a satisfactory outcome.

The ugly truth is that often mistakes are detected, if ever, only long after the senior officials responsible for the fiascos have been promoted or moved on. There is little incentive for doing better as long as the money keeps flowing, fresh troops keep arriving, and there is little demand for genuine accountability.

The mission statement, open-ended and ambiguous, remains unchanged since 2001, to which the Pentagon clings like a security blanket: “To protect the homeland by preventing Afghanistan from being used again as a safe haven for terrorists to attack the United States or our allies.” What does that actually mean for a country surrounded by Pakistan and Iran, regimes known to use terrorism as elements of their foreign policy?

U.S. military leaders must have known that a counterinsurgency strategy was unwinnable when Pakistan, through its support of the Taliban, controlled the operational tempo and also the supply of our troops in landlocked Afghanistan.

U.S. political leaders must have known that Pakistan has been a firm ally of China for decades, both of whom have very different objectives in Afghanistan from ours.

The war in Afghanistan is endless because we have refused to recognize reality or accept and act upon it even when that reality has become obvious. It is self-delusion on a national political scale.

The time has come to shift the burden of Afghanistan to those countries in the region who have worked so hard to ensure that we failed and likewise ensure that they reap the bitter harvest of what they sowed.

This column was originally published at American Thinker.

The views expressed in CCNS member articles are not necessarily the views or positions of the entire CCNS. They are the views of the authors, who are members of the CCNS.

© 2024 Citizens Commission on National Security

© 2024 Citizens Commission on National Security