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Bombshell Afghanistan report bolsters calls for end to 'forever wars'

Calls for an end to so-called forever wars are being bolstered this week by a bombshell report detailing how U.S. officials lied when they claimed progress in the 18-year war in Afghanistan.

Lawmakers, particularly Democrats, have responded to the revelations with demands for hearings and calls to withdraw from America’s longest war.

That the war in Afghanistan is not going as well as officials claim is not surprising, with the running joke among defense watchers being that the war has turned so many corners it is going in circles.

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But private interviews conducted by a government watchdog and published this week by The Washington Post document in stark detail how officials from the Bush administration to the present were providing grim outlooks behind closed doors even as they painted a rosy picture in their public statements.

“We ought to call for public hearings on Afghanistan based on the Post’s reporting of the ‘Afghanistan Papers,’ and we’ll ask what our mission has been, why did it go wrong, who all lied to the American people,” said Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaHouse Democrats introduce bill to invest 0 billion in STEM research and education Biden says he opposes Supreme Court term limits Dozens of legal experts throw weight behind Supreme Court term limit bill MORE (D-Calif.), a progressive member of the House Armed Services Committee.

“Subpoena all of the people who were mentioned and have them account and explain to the American people in some cases why they lied and in other cases why they were utterly incompetent,” Khanna added.

The trove of documents published Monday by the Post include more than 2,000 pages of notes and transcripts from 428 of interviews with U.S. officials, as well as several audio recordings.

The Post dubbed the documents “The Afghanistan Papers,” invoking the Pentagon Papers published in the 1970s by the Post and The New York Times that revealed a secret history of the Vietnam War.

The interviews were conducted by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) as part of the research it did for its “Lessons Learned” series of reports. SIGAR has been among the harshest critics of the war, but the Lessons Learned reports omitted the bluntest language found in the interviews.

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The raw interviews show officials acknowledging that “we didn’t know what we were doing,” “we clearly failed in Afghanistan,” and that the strategy included “so many priorities and aspirations, it was like no strategy at all.”

Officials also called the goal to build a strong central government in Afghanistan “idiotic,” blamed a flood of U.S. aid dollars for the “development of mass corruption” that was “somewhere between unbelievably hard and outright impossible to fix,” and labeled the plan to train Afghan forces into an effective military “insane.”

They admitted that “every data point was altered to present the best picture possible” and that Taliban attacks were cited as signs of progress “to make everyone involved look good, and to make it look like the troops and resources were having the kind of effect where removing them would cause the country to deteriorate.”

The Afghanistan Papers gave fodder to those in Congress who have long pushed for a withdrawal.

“We need to withdraw,” Khanna said. “We need to have a negotiation, come out with an agreement within six months, and withdraw.”

Others called for hearings into the issue.

Senate Armed Services Committee member Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandInternal Democratic poll: Desiree Tims gains on Mike Turner in Ohio House race Hillicon Valley: Facebook, Twitter's handling of New York Post article raises election night concerns | FCC to move forward with considering order targeting tech's liability shield | YouTube expands polices to tackle QAnon Democrats question Amazon over reported interference of workers' rights to organize MORE (D-N.Y.) penned a letter to the leaders of the committee calling for a hearing “to examine the questions raised by this reporting and provide clarity with respect to our strategy in Afghanistan, a clear definition of success, and an honest and complete review of the obstacles on the ground.”

Fellow committee member Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) tweeted that the panel “must investigate & immediately hold public hearings with [Defense] Secretary [Mark] Esper & other top national security leadership.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense: Dems want hearing on DOD role on coronavirus vaccine | US and India sign data-sharing pact | American citizen kidnapped in Niger Senate Democrats want hearing on Pentagon vaccine effort Governors urge negotiators to include top priorities in final defense policy bill MORE (R-Okla.) said he would wait to make a decision on holding a public hearing until after a previously scheduled closed-door briefing Wednesday with Gen. Scott Miller, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, and Randall Schriver, assistant secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific security affairs.

“Let’s see what we hear first,” Inhofe told reporters Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the House Armed Services Committee held its own previously scheduled closed-door briefing on Afghanistan on Tuesday morning with Miller and Schriver. The committee also has a public hearing with Esper on Wednesday on Syria. Afghanistan is now expected to be raised as well.

Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithGovernors urge negotiators to include top priorities in final defense policy bill Bottom line A long overdue discussion on Pentagon spending MORE (D-Wash.) said members brought up the Afghanistan Papers in Tuesday’s briefing.

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“The main concern is to make sure that we get a clear picture going forward, that they don’t try to make it look artificial and rosy,” Smith said of the situation in Afghanistan. 

Smith added that he doesn’t yet have a clear plan for making sure that officials stay honest and accountable in their reporting of the war to Congress and the public in the future. 

“I don’t have any really good ideas at the moment, but we are looking at it and trying to figure it out, because we are deeply concerned about it,” he said.

Rep. John GaramendiJohn Raymond GaramendiWuhan is the final straw: The world needs to divest from China GOP seizes on 'defund the police' to galvanize base Peace Corps faces uncertain future with no volunteers in field MORE (D-Calif.), meanwhile, said he left halfway through the briefing after lawmakers expressed concern over the Afghanistan Papers but “went on to hear what we’ve heard before” from the Defense officials. He also said questions were more focused on the present than the past.

“The members were asking what kind of detail we’d get past what we’ve heard over and over and over,” he said. “We learned nothing that could not have been said in public.”

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelTrump appointee sparks bipartisan furor for politicizing media agency Office of Special Counsel widens Pompeo probe into Hatch Act violations  Overnight Defense: Trump, Biden set to meet in final debate | Explicit Fort Bragg tweets were sent by account administrator | China threatens retaliation over Taiwan arms sale MORE (D-N.Y.) also announced Tuesday he would hold a hearing with SIGAR early next year.

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“The war in Afghanistan has gone on too long and I’m disgusted by the failures in U.S. policy-making which have kept our forces there for years after they should have departed,” Engel said in a statement. “This week’s reporting confirms many of my concerns about the lack of a coherent and achievable strategy to ending the war in Afghanistan, and the committee will continue to seek answers about what went wrong in Afghanistan and how to bring the war to an end.”

Despite the revelations, the response on Capitol Hill was somewhat muted as impeachment proceedings consumed much of Washington’s attention.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamNew Lincoln Project ad goes after Lindsey Graham: 'A political parasite' The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Justice Barrett joins court; one week until Election Day Biden's polling lead over Trump looks more comfortable than Clinton's MORE (S.C.), one of the GOP’s most prominent defense voices, said Tuesday he hadn’t yet read the report because he’s “been so focused on this other stuff.” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Jim RischJames (Jim) Elroy RischWhy the US should rely more on strategy, not sanctions Davis: The Hall of Shame for GOP senators who remain silent on Donald Trump Senators blast Turkey's move to convert Hagia Sophia back into a mosque MORE (R-Idaho) also said he hadn’t read the report.

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyThe Memo: Five reasons why Trump could upset the odds Will anyone from the left realize why Trump won — again? Ratings drop to 55M for final Trump-Biden debate MORE (R-Utah), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee with oversight of the Afghanistan War, said he read the report but not the underlying documents and would refrain from commenting until he had done so. The top Democrat on the subcommittee, Sen. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphyBitter fight over Barrett fuels calls to nix filibuster, expand court Democrats warn GOP will regret Barrett confirmation Democrats brace for nail-biting finish to Senate battle MORE (Conn.), said he hasn’t read the report.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpGiuliani goes off on Fox Business host after she compares him to Christopher Steele Trump looks to shore up support in Nebraska NYT: Trump had 7 million in debt mostly tied to Chicago project forgiven MORE has repeatedly expressed a desire to withdraw from Afghanistan, where 13,000 U.S. troops are still fighting.

The U.S. mission in Afghanistan officially is twofold: to train, advise and assist Afghan forces in the fight against the Taliban and to conduct counterterrorism operations against groups such as al Qaeda and ISIS.

Trump opened up direct U.S. negotiations with the Taliban for the first time and was on the precipice of a deal earlier this year that would have seen U.S. troops withdraw. Talks collapsed for months after Trump invited, then uninvited Taliban leaders to Camp David, but negotiations resumed this past weekend.