The Intercept - August 26, 2021
IN THE IMMEDIATE aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, U.S.-backed Afghan warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum’s forces murdered hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Taliban prisoners by jamming them into metal shipping containers and letting them suffocate. At the time, Dostum was on the CIA’s payroll and had been working with U.S. special forces to oust the Taliban from power.
The Bush administration blocked subsequent efforts to investigate the mass murder, even after the FBI interviewed witnesses among the surviving Afghans who had been moved to the U.S. prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and after human rights officials publicly identified the mass grave site where Dostum’s forces had disposed of bodies. Later, President Barack Obama promised to investigate, and then took no action.
Instead, Hollywood stepped in and turned Dostum into a hero. The 2018 movie, “12 Strong,” a jingoistic account of the partnership between U.S. special forces and Dostum in the 2001 invasion, whitewashed Dostum — even as his crimes continued to pile up in the years after the prisoner massacre. At the time of the movie’s January 2018 release, Dostum was in exile, hiding from criminal charges in Afghanistan for having ordered his bodyguards to rape a political opponent, including with an assault rifle. The movie (filmed in New Mexico, not Afghanistan) was based on a book that a New York Times reviewer called “a rousing, uplifting, Toby Keith-singing piece of work.”
For two decades, Americans have told each other one lie after another about the war in Afghanistan. The lies have come from the White House, Congress, the State Department, the Pentagon, and the CIA, as well as from Hollywood, cable news pundits, journalists, and the broader culture.
Americans have hungered for a simple storyline, with heroes and villains, to make sense of the longest war in U.S. history. They have wanted stories like “12 Strong” to make them feel good. But at the very edge of the American empire, the war was nasty and brutish, and brought out in Americans the same imperial arrogance that doomed the U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
This month, as the Taliban swiftly took control of Kabul and the American-backed government collapsed, the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the government’s watchdog over the Afghan experience, issued his final report. The assessment includes remarkably candid interviews with former American officials involved in shaping U.S. policy in Afghanistan that, collectively, offer perhaps the most biting critique of the 20-year American enterprise ever published in an official U.S. government report.
“The extraordinary costs were meant to serve a purpose,” the report notes, “though the definition of that purpose evolved over time.”
Released in the days after Kabul fell, the report reads like an epitaph for America’s involvement in Afghanistan. ...
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