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Pentagon privately voiced concerns about Afghan war

  • Published at 10:44 pm December 10th, 2019
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US President Donald Trump speaks to the troops during a surprise Thanksgiving day visit at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan on November 28, 2019 AFP

About 2,400 US service members have been killed in the Afghan conflict and many thousands more wounded

The Washington Post reported on Monday that Pentagon officials privately told a watchdog for years about their deep concerns about the US war strategy in Afghanistan, including senior officials who were publicly more hopeful.

The Washington Post obtained thousands of documents from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the government's watchdog on the war, which interviewed more than 600 people. The Post obtained the interviews through a Freedom of Information Act and two federal lawsuits.

The disclosure comes as US President Donald Trump and the Pentagon look to draw down the number of forces in Afghanistan to focus more on battling al Qaeda and Islamic State, as the administration hopes for a peace deal with the Taliban.

The United States went into Afghanistan in 2001 and ousted its Taliban leaders after they refused to hand over members of the al Qaeda militant group behind the September 11 attack on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.

About 2,400 US service members have been killed in the Afghan conflict and many thousands more wounded.

"We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn't know what we were doing," Douglas Lute, a three-star general who was given a central role in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan by US President George W Bush, told interviewers in 2015, the Post said.

Military commanders throughout the war publicly talked about their hopes that the conflict in Afghanistan was turning a corner, even as the Taliban held on to large parts of the country and killed US and Afghan forces - without having any air combat capability.

Still, the US military leaders have periodically talked about their concerns about the war, particularly when seeking increases in troops or in capabilities needed to fight the Taliban.

In 2010, then-Major General Michael Flynn, deputy chief of staff for intelligence in Afghanistan for the US military and its Nato allies, sharply criticized the work of US spy agencies in Afghanistan, calling them ignorant and out of touch with the Afghan people. Flynn later served as Trump's national security adviser.

The Post also obtained some of Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's memos between 2001 and 2006.

"We are never going to get the US military out of Afghanistan unless we take care to see that there is something going on that will provide the stability that will be necessary for us to leave," Rumsfeld said in one dated 2002.