The Afghanistan Papers are a set of interviews relating to the war in Afghanistan undertaken by the United States military prepared by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) that was published by The Washington Post in 2019 following a Freedom of Information Act request. The documents reveal that high-ranking officials generally held the opinion that the war was unwinnable while keeping this view hidden from the public. Due to the difficulty of creating objective metrics to demonstrate success, information was manipulated for the duration of the conflict. NPR host Lulu Garcia-Navarro, comparing the documents with the Pentagon Papers, noted the revelation of what constituted "explicit and sustained efforts... to deliberately mislead the public."
Initial reporting in The Washington Post
The initial article derived from these papers, titled "At War With the Truth," was published by The Washington Post reporter Craig Whitlock on December 9, 2019. Shortly thereafter, numerous publications built on Whitlock's writing.
In one of the interviews, which were conducted through the agency's Lessons Learned Program, an official estimated that 40% of U.S. aid to Afghanistan since 2001 ended up in the pockets of corrupt officials, warlords, criminals and insurgents. Ryan Crocker, former ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq, told the investigators in a 2016 interview, "You just cannot put those amounts of money into a very fragile state and society, and not have it fuel corruption."
Reactions of public officials
Due to the nature of the content within the Afghanistan Papers, numerous public officials commented on their content in the days following Whitlock's initial article. The following is a sampling of select politicians:
Senator Rand Paul: "I think our young men and women that we send to war, our best and our brightest, they deserve better. They deserve an open airing of what is the mission. I've been saying for several years now that I can't meet a general anywhere who can tell me really what is the mission we're trying to accomplish in Afghanistan."
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand: "We all read today, the striking reporting by The Washington Post, suggesting that administration officials, potentially including military officials, have misled the American public about the war in Afghanistan. I am writing to request hearings to address these deeply concerning revelations about the Afghan war.”
Representative Tulsi Gabbard said she introduces legislation for a Congressional inquiry into "the lying and wasting of taxpayer dollars" and lives of US service members. She accused the military-industrial complex, contractors and consultancy companies of profiting from "a scam that ripped the US taxpayers off over a trillion dollars since 9/11 in Afghanistan alone." Gabbard reiterated her request to bring US troops home from Afghanistan.
Former Vice President Joe Biden distanced himself from Barack Obama's Afghan war policy, saying: "I’m the guy from the beginning who argued that it was a big, big mistake to surge forces to Afghanistan."
Resurfacing in 2021
The papers were brought back into discussion after the 2021 Summer Offensive of the Taliban and the fall of Kabul. Debates around the efficiency of U.S. state-building efforts were brought into question, with contrast in what the U.S. forces originally revealed and thought versus what actually occurred. U.S. officials and leaders such as President Joe Biden were heavily criticised for their actions during the withdraw and the public narrative that was being told throughout August and September 2021.
- Whitlock, Craig (August 31, 2021). The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1-9821-5900-9.
- Craig Whitlock (December 9, 2019). "Confidential documents reveal U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan". Washington Post. Retrieved 2019-12-10.
- Myers, Meghann (2019-12-09). "Senior enlisted leaders react to Afghanistan papers: 'I've never been lied to'". Military Times. Retrieved 2019-12-10.
- Palmer, Anna; Sherman, Jake. "POLITICO Playbook: America's longest war finally has its Pentagon Papers moment". POLITICO. Retrieved 2019-12-10.
- Beaumont, Peter (2019-12-09). "Afghanistan papers reveal US public were misled about unwinnable war". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-12-10.
- Peter Beaumont (December 9, 2019). "US lies and deception spelled out in Afghanistan papers' shocking detail". The Guardian. Retrieved December 11, 2019.
- Ryan Pickrell (December 9, 2019). "Top US officials knew the Afghanistan war was unwinnable and 'lied' — even as costs rose to $1 trillion and 2,351 American troop's lives". Business Insider. Retrieved December 11, 2019.
- Gibbons-Neff, Thomas (2019-12-09). "Documents Reveal U.S. Officials Misled Public on War in Afghanistan". The New York Times.
- Craig Whitlock (December 9, 2019). "At War With the Truth". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 12, 2019.
- "US spending in Afghanistan fueled rampant corruption, reports say". The World. December 11, 2019.
- "The War in Afghanistan Was Doomed From the Start". Slate. December 9, 2019.
- Victor Garcia (December 9, 2019). "Sen. Rand Paul reacts to bombshell Afghanistan report, says service members 'deserve better'". Fox News. Retrieved December 12, 2019.
- Ellen Mitchell (December 9, 2019). "Gillibrand demands hearing following release of 'Afghanistan Papers'". The Hill. Retrieved December 12, 2019.
- Enjeti, Saagar; Ball, Krystal (December 10, 2019). "Tulsi Gabbard reacts to Afghanistan report, calls out Pete's McKinsey work". The Hill – via YouTube.
- Bonn, Tess (December 10, 2019). "Gabbard calls for congressional inquiry over Afghanistan war report". The Hill.
- "Transcript: The December Democratic debate". The Washington Post. December 20, 2019. Retrieved July 9, 2020.