Officials at the Pentagon appear to be sidestepping questions raised after confidential documents revealed that U.S. officials did not tell the truth and distorted evidence about the war in Afghanistan, The Hill reports.
It comes after The Washington Post last week published a bombshell report detailing the “root failures” of the lengthy conflict, which featured transcripts of confidential interviews with key figures involved in prosecuting the 18-year U.S. war.
The report, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request made three years ago, contained statements from more than 400 insiders who gave unrestrained criticism of what went wrong in Afghanistan.
Some of those interviewed also claimed that senior U.S. officials hid evidence and distorted statistics to deliberately mislead the public and make it appear that the U.S. was winning the war.
Despite the report raising multiple concerns about the U.S.’s transparency regarding the war, which has seen more than 775,000 U.S. troops deployed to Afghanistan, top defense officials appear to be largely brushing it off.
“I haven’t read all the stories frankly … but the stories spanned multiple administrations, multiple uniformed and civilian officials, and I think it’s good to look back. I think at this point where I’m looking is forward,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, at a press conference on Dec. 12, Pentagon spokesman, Jonathan Hoffman, praised President Trump administration’s handling of the Afghanistan conflict, which he said had attempted to be “honest, open” and “transparent.”
“I think what we see from the report from The Washington Post is looking at individuals giving retrospectives years later, on what they may have believed at the time. This department has attempted to be honest, open, transparent in all of its actions with the American people,” Hoffman told reporters.
“And I think that you can see is the fact that these interviews that make up the basis of this report, the Washington Post report, were interviews that were given to Congress’ special investigator on this, with the intention of being public.
“So I don’t follow that interviews given with the purpose of going to Congress and going to the American people, show any sign of being dishonest.”
“I know from this administration, from this secretary, that we will always endeavor to be as open and transparent with the American people and to show our work and be honest about it … The American people have a right to understand what’s going on overseas, and what our military is doing,” he added.
Former Defense Secretary James Mattis also appeared to be largely dismissive of the controversial report, saying that he did not consider it to be “revelatory.”
“Well, it is investigative reporting. I think it’s been well done in that sense. But I have a hard time seeing it as all that revelatory,” he told reporters at a Washington Post event on Dec. 13.
“The difficulty of Afghanistan was well understood very early on. The idea that there was any kind of an effort to hide this perplexes me.” … “If you read [the articles], you’d almost think it’s a total disaster, and it’s not that at all. It’s been hard as hell, but it’s not just one undistinguished defeat after another,” he added.
Esper and Hoffman appear to be largely dismissive of the bombshell report, and James Carafano, a defense policy expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said he did not anticipate that officials will address the Washington Post’s report going forward.
“Today’s leaders have no obligation to defend, our job is to move forward not to look backward,” Carafano told The Hill.
“I don’t think the Pentagon feels squeezed by any of this. From the Pentagon’s perspective, they would just shrug their shoulders and say ‘we weren’t on watch,’” he added.
Carafano noted that the ongoing impeachment trial against President Trump, coupled with dwindling attention on the long-running war, has diverted attention from the papers.
“You have lots of other issues; we have the big issue of impeachment, which sucks the oxygen out of everything. You really don’t have an angry America” when it comes to the Afghanistan war, he added.
It is currently estimated that around 14,000 U.S. troops, including active-duty personnel, members of the National Guard and Reserve, as well as Civilians (contractors and DOD employees), remain in Afghanistan, although the official figure is not known.