Not so fast on the Afghanistan analysis!

The Washington Post recently published a lengthy article headed “The Afghanistan Papers:  A secret history of the war“.  It purports to show how the US military lied to the public about the conduct of the war, and covered up important information.

The former Naval officer who blogs as Cdr. Salamander was there at the time, and he has a rather different view.  He’s taken the time and trouble to write an extensive essay challenging the errors he sees in the Washington Post article.  I found it intriguing.  Here are a few excerpts from what is, of necessity, a very long essay.

With Craig Whitlock’s article out, many are selectively focused on what little they paid attention small attention to for so long – and I’m about to crawl out of my skin.

This will not stand. I will not let what happened to those who served in Vietnam be saddled to those of us who served in Afghanistan.

I will not let “the military lied and lost the war” smear start before we’ve even drafted the MOVEORD to the Friendship Bridge.

. . .

Whitlock can only write about what he got from his FOIA, but the gaps here are mind boggling.

. . .

So, are we going to play the blame game are we?

We are going to selectively focus on certain time periods and turn a blind eye to the more complicated experience that was/is Afghanistan?

Well, bollocks to that. We all knew this was losable from junior staffers to the 4-star level in ’05 on.

Why do you think McKiernan came in with SCHB a few years later?

We briefed the Obama advance team before the inauguration about the surge and SCHB that was already underway and the importance of momentum … and they pissed it all ways in DEC09.

The article has some great information, but I am left screaming in to the void with the complete lack of emphasis on the Bonn Accords, McKiernan, lead nation construct early on, and more.  There is a lot of self-serving people quoted making excuses for their own self interest – accuracy for history be damned as far as they’re concerned.

There’s much more at the link.  It’s a long article, but filled with first-hand observations (after all, he was there for much of the period under discussion).  In the latter part of the article, where he takes specific points from the Washington Post essay and picks them apart with his responses, it becomes particularly interesting.  Highly recommended reading.

There’s an awful lot of blame to go around in Afghanistan, but I suspect more of it is concentrated in Washington D.C. than it is in Kabul.  I think an awful lot of US politicians and diplomats (and even some generals) really thought they could create a US-style democracy in a nation that’s been at war with itself, and everyone around it, for the past three millennia or so.  It was never going to work.  (I said as much in past blog articles, for example, this one.)

I think Cdr. Salamander has penned a very useful contribution to any rational analysis of what went wrong in Afghanistan.  I hope others who were there at the time will do the same, to set the historical record straight.  Unfortunately, given the history of almost every country and every army, I don’t think we’ll learn from those facts . . . and I daresay our descendants will be making the same mistakes, somewhere else.



  1. One thing about war is that the winners get to write the history. The blame game, and all this fingerpointing is a distraction.

    The history is that the lying liars in warshington scammed the American people. No one should blame the good people of the military; but the lying liars of the ruling class and the ruling class generals ought to be held in permanent contempt.

    The purpose of the WaPo article is that we have put up with this malarkey for long enough, and Americans need to repeal their consent for all the killing in the name of… In the name of what?



  2. We have never even tried to "win" in Afghanistan or Iraq, from the very beginning. Washington never decided or defined what victory might look like. How do you achieve the objective, when there is no objective? We won the war (invasion) and then lost the peace.

    I figured this out in my first trip to the desert in 2003. It's not exactly rocket science.

  3. I am shocked, SHOCKED that Wa-Po published an inaccurate report….
    As to the "even generals" line, once an officer's promotions require congressional approval, they are politicians, not soldiers…

  4. I know what FOIA stands for, and DEC09 presumably means December 2009, but what do MOVEORD and SCHB stand for? And if you are talking about December 2009, why not just say December 2009? Color me wrinkled with irritation.

  5. The key of course is that the politicians didn't want a war won. They wanted military action. The wars now like, the wars going back to Viet Nam, are theater not action. There is no intent to accomplish anything, there is no goal,just lives spent to prop up the politicians image. The resultant command confusion and image consciousness leaves us with rules of engagement that are onerous at best and mission planning that is the equivalent of "let's put on a good show for the video team". The wars start as a gesture the troops die in truth.

  6. SCHB

    "American military strategists in both Iraq and Afghanistan have proposed modifications to the strategy. Sometimes defined as "clear, hold and build" or "shape, clear, hold, and build," native forces identify the nature and strength of the enemy threat in a given area (shape), foreign and native forces defeat the enemy threat (clear), foreign and native forces keep the area clear of enemies (hold), and native democratic institutions are established that draw their legitimacy from the local people (build).[19] Basic services such as electricity, sewer systems, fresh water, farms, and marketplaces were provided.

  7. And of course, MOVEORD is a movement order, an order issued by their higher command for a unit to move – from one place to another.

  8. IDK – I read the article in the Washington Post and wasn't surprised by any of it.

    Lack of clear mission after al Queda was decimated, cherry picking stats and metrics, confusing rules of engagement, to much aid going in, to much corruption/graft in place, lackluster support from locals, lackluster performance of local security forces.

    Anyone who was really paying attention to the alt-media already knew all this.

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