Lying Around Truth
Two weeks had passed since the collapse of Twin Towers, somewhat like a house of cards, in New York. The entire United States of America was still reeling under the mixture of emotions of panic, pain (of losing near and dear ones), and anger. Donald Henry Rumsfeld (July 9, 1932 – June 29, 2021), the then US Secretary of Defence, announced a war against the terrorists in Afghanistan, while speaking at a media conference held outside the War Room of the Defence Department in Washington DC. It was there, when a journalist asked Rumsfeld whether it had become a habit of the concerned authorities in the US to spread fake news through the media in order to mislead their enemies? The Defence Secretary, standing on the podium at the Pentagon’s famous Briefing Room, remained silent for a couple of minutes, and then recalled Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill‘s famous quote: “In wartime, Truth is so precious that she should always be surrounded by a bodyguard of Lies.” At the same time, Rumsfeld told the journalist that he would not need to lie, as there were various ways to hide a lot without lying. The journalist, again, asked the Defence Secretary whether he was giving this assurance on behalf of the entire Department of Defence? “You must be joking this time!” replied the Defence Secretary.
Craig Whitlock, the seasoned War Correspondent for The Washington Post, has begun his 2021 publication ‘The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War‘ (Simon & Schuster, pp. 346; USD 30) with this seemingly trivial conversation between a journalist and former Defence Secretary Rumsfeld. The author believes that a Big Lie was there in this conversation. Whitlock has made an attempt to shed light on the actual plan of the US with the help of countless secret statements, documents and information in this book. Interestingly, Washington DC had adopted a similar policy to hide its iniquitous activities during the Vietnam War. Three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Whitlock has said that The Afghanistan Papers is not a complete record of the US war in Afghanistan or the history of the US military might. Instead, he has highlighted the mistakes made by Washington DC, and why three US Presidents (G W Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump) failed to tell the Truth. The author penned the book after studying thousands of pages of secret testimony of more than a thousand US soldiers, who were directly involved in the Afghan War. Those soldiers were well aware of the fact that what was officially being told to the US people was a lie, as the main purpose of the US Government was to awaken the Nationalist sentiment. No wonder, Whitlock had to struggle a lot to collect these large amount of unedited documents.
In the summer of 2016, Whitlock learned that the Office of Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), an almost outdated Kabul-based agency of the Pentagon, had been revived. He also came to know that SIGAR staff were secretly interviewing devastated and desperate US soldiers before their return from Afghanistan. SIGAR was doing so as a part of the Lessons Learned project, which was aimed at identifying US policy failures in the Afghan War so that Washington DC would not repeat them. In other words, the US realised that it had committed a mistake 15 years after triggering a war in the South Asian country in the pretext of War against Terror. Although the Pentagon published the outcome of the Lessons Learned project in the form of a report, it was an eyewash. Whitlock found that the Department of Defence did not mention anti-government criticisms and comments in the report. He moved the Court, requesting the Judiciary to ask the Pentagon to make all audio and video tapes, and transcripts of the project public. The war correspondent argued that people have the right to know information related to the Afghan War, as quite a huge amount of taxpayers’ money was directly involved in this venture.
As usual, the US Government was reluctant to release those audio and video tapes. The Washington Post had filed two Federal lawsuits in a row against the Government, and the legal battle went on for three years. Finally, SIGAR released more than 2,000 pages of documents, including interviews with soldiers directly involved in the war. Whitlock has revealed in his book that most of the senior military officers reportedly said that what was happening in Afghanistan in the name of war was a huge disaster for the US. The officers further said that statements, issued by the Pentagon, the Foreign Office and the White House on a regular basis in those two decades (2001-21), were full of lies.
Whitlock, in this publication, has unfolded the lies, one after another. While a total of 0.75 million US soldiers took part in the Afghan War, 21,000 of them received serious injuries, and 2,300 sacrificed their lives. The US reportedly spent USD 2,313 trillion for the war in Afghanistan. The author has divided this book in six parts on the basis of the timing of war so that the readers can easily understand the impact of US propaganda. The six parts are: A false taste of victory (2001-02), The great distraction (2003-05), The Taliban comes back (2006-08), Obama’s overreach (2009-10), Things fall apart (2011-16) and Stalemate (2017-21).
Whitlock has narrated the activities of the three US Presidents and their administrations in such a simple way that it would certainly amaze the readers. The main essences of this publication are Whitlock’s arguments, counter-arguments, analytical skill as a journalist, and invaluable experience of the soldiers who had smelled gunpowder in their injured hands. Those lies are so simple, one can realise them even sitting thousands of miles away from the battlefield. Surprisingly, G W Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump failed to realise this fact!
At the beginning, the author has mentioned an inevitable mistake, stating that the US had triggered the war without identifying whom it would have to fight, and Washington DC has never been able to correct this basic mistake. In favour of his argument, Whitlock quoted Dr Robert M Gates, the US Secretary of Defence from December 2006 to July 2011 and former Director of CIA, as saying: “The reality is that on 9/11, we didn’t know jack shit about al-Qaeda.” It may be noted that Dr Gates was the only Defence Secretary in US history to be asked to remain in that office by a newly-elected President. The veteran Washington Post journalist has stressed that putting al-Qaeda and the Taliban in the same bracket and firing machine guns was such an ignorant move that the US Forces had to pay the price. The then US Administration had no idea that al-Qaeda is primarily an Arab militant group, while the Taliban are a local Pashtun tribe in southern and eastern Afghanistan, he added.
Osama bin Laden had settled in Afghanistan after facing troubles in Sudan. Later, the Taliban protected the al-Qaeda leader, in exchange for strategic advice (to wage a war against the US). Initially, the Taliban had no link with the 9/11 terror attacks. After 2002, most of al-Qaeda leaders left Afghanistan for neighbouring Pakistan and Iran. The Taliban and other local militant groups faced the US Forces. In this context, Jeffrey Eggers, a Navy SEAL who served in Afghanistan and worked on the National Security Council staff under G W Bush and Obama, raised the most important question in Lessons Learned. Eggers reportedly asked: “Why did we make the Taliban the enemy when we were attacked by al-Qaeda? Why did we want to defeat the Taliban?”
The Afghanistan Papers has raised many such unavoidable questions. This publication can be considered as a secret history of a war, or a narrative of failed defence strategy.
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