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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 measures to oppose Trump's bomb sale to Saudis House impeaches Trump for second time — with some GOP support Stacey Abrams gets kudos for work in Georgia runoff election 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 GillibrandDemocrats looking to speed through Senate impeachment trial With Senate at stake, Georgia is on all our minds Build trust in vaccines by investing in community workers 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 InhofeMcConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time 'I saw my life flash before my eyes': An oral history of the Capitol attack Republican senators now regret not doing more to contain Trump 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 SmithOvernight Defense: Pentagon watchdog to probe extremism in US military | FBI chief warns of 'online chatter' ahead of inauguration | House conservative bloc opposes Austin waiver Conservative caucus opposes waiver for Biden's Pentagon pick 'I saw my life flash before my eyes': An oral history of the Capitol attack 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 GaramendiReport on military aviation crashes faults lack of training, 'chronic fatigue' Wuhan is the final straw: The world needs to divest from China GOP seizes on 'defund the police' to galvanize base 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 EngelState Department sets up new bureau for cybersecurity and emerging technologies How Congress dismissed women's empowerment 2020: A year in photos 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 GrahamThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time Additional airlines ban guns on flights to DC ahead of inauguration 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 RischJim Elroy RischOvernight Defense: US sanctions NATO ally Turkey over Russian defense system | Veterans groups, top Democrats call for Wilkie's resignation | Gingrich, other Trump loyalists named to Pentagon board Will Biden choose a values-based or transactional foreign policy? GOP senator congratulates Biden, says Trump should accept results MORE (R-Idaho) also said he hadn’t read the report.

Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt Romney'Almost Heaven, West Virginia' — Joe Manchin and a 50-50 Senate The Hill's Morning Report - Biden asks Congress to expand largest relief response in U.S. history McConnell about to school Trump on political power for the last time 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 MurphyDemocratic senator: COVID-19 relief is priority over impeachment trial Lawmakers push back on late Trump terror designation for Yemen's Houthis Bipartisan anger builds over police failure at Capitol MORE (Conn.), said he hasn’t read the report.

President TrumpDonald TrumpCIA chief threatened to resign over push to install Trump loyalist as deputy: report Azar in departure letter says Capitol riot threatens to 'tarnish' administration's accomplishments Justice Dept. argues Trump should get immunity from rape accuser's lawsuit 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.