• On the Afghan Papers, Tequila, and Anne Smedinghoff

    January 3, 2020

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Democracy, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen


    It’s common this time of year to write review articles making sense of the events of the last 12 months. But what all of them will omit is one of the most important stories of the year. For the first time in some two decades America hasn’t started a new war.

    In 2019 34 American service members died in war. In 2009 it was 459, in 2003 it was 526. A total of 6857 since the post 9/11 wars commenced in 2001 with the invasion of Afghanistan. Bush began that war, then invaded Iraq in 2003. Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 then immediately expanded the war in Afghanistan. He went on to restart America’s war in Iraq after it was over the first time, launched a new war to turn Libya into a failed state and trigger the refugee flows still disrupting EU politics, engaged the U.S. in Yemen, abetted a humanitarian crisis in Syria, and set off yet another refugee flow into Europe through military intervention. So three full years without a new war is indeed news.

    This year also brought mainstream confirmation of the truth behind the Afghan War. The Washington Post, long an advocate for all the wars everywhere, took a tiny step of penance in publishing the “Afghan Papers,” which show the American public was lied to every step of the way over the past 18 years about progress in Afghanistan and the possibility of some sort of success. Government officials from the president(s) to the grunt(s) issued positive statements they knew to be false and hid evidence the war was unwinnable. The so-called Afghan Papers are actually thousands of pages of notes created by the Special Inspector for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR), a watchdog federal agency created to oversee the spending of close to one trillion dollars in reconstruction money.

    The SIGAR documents (all quotes are from the Post’s Afghan Papers reporting) are blunt. “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” said Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations. He added: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking… If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction, 2,400 lives lost,” Lute added. “Who will say this was in vain?” There are plenty of similar sentiments expressed going back a decade, with hints of the same almost to the first months of the conflict. The record of lies is as stark, final, and unambiguous as the death toll itself.


    Underlying all these comments given to SIGAR confidentially (WaPo had to fight a hellish FOIA battle to get these Papers released and even then most names were redacted) is a subtheme of what happens when the public finds out they’ve been lied to? The lesson there is a clear one: the public will have it shoved under their noses and ignore it repeatedly. The “secrets” of what was going on in Afghanistan were available for any who cared to call bullsh*t. Everything that failed in Afghanistan was at some level a repeat of what had failed earlier or concurrently in Iraq. The Papers quote an Army brigade commander in eastern Afghanistan who told government interviewers that he often saw nation building proposals that referred to “sheikhs” literally cut-and-pasted from reconstruction projects in Iraq. (“Sheikh” is an Arabic title of respect regularly misused by the military in Iraq but inapplicable across most of Afghanistan.) Many reconstruction personnel on the civilian side were transferred from Iraq to Afghanistan, and senior military leaders followed enlisted sons and fathers in doing deployments in both nations.

    On paper the story was the same. Chelsea Manning and Wikileaks exposed the lies in Iraq, only to face jail time and personal destruction. Whistleblower Matt Hoh, who served in Iraq as a Marine and in Afghanistan with the State Department, resigned in protest and told all as far back as 2010. My own book on Iraq exposed reconstruction was a failure in 2011, as did Chris Coyne’s on reconstruction in Haiti in 2010, or Douglas Wissing or Anand Gopal on Afghanistan or more recently Scott Horton’s in 2017. The Army’s Lt. Col Danny Davis, or even SIGAR’s own reporting over the years told much of the same story if anyone had bothered to read it. If anyone had looked deeper, they would have seen the same errors in reconstruction made many times before, from Somalia to the massive CORDS program in the Vietnam War.

    The Papers also show during the peak of the fighting in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2012, U.S. politicians and military commanders believed the more they spent on schools, bridges, canals and other projects the faster things would improve. Aid workers told SIGAR from the ground “it was a colossal misjudgment, akin to pumping kerosene on a dying campfire just to keep the flame alive.” One staffer with the Agency for International Development claimed 90 percent of what they spent was overkill: “We lost objectivity. We were given money, told to spend it and we did, without reason.” A contractor explained he was expected to dole out $3 million daily for projects in a single Afghan district roughly the size of a U.S. county. He once asked a visiting congressman whether the lawmaker could responsibly spend that kind of money back home, and “he said hell no. I’m doing it for communities that live in mud huts with no windows.”

    It was never a question of would it work, but more of a question of finding any example in the past where it did work. The one cited by so many NEOCON believers was the post-WWII Marshall Plan, as if loans to German and Japanese industrialists to rebuild factories and retool from tanks to cars had anything to do with the medieval economy of Afghanistan.

    But perhaps owing to their roots as the watchdog of the reconstruction program, SIGAR saves some of its most laser-like commentary for nation building.


    But Afghanistan was always supposed to be more than a “kinetic” war. The real battles were for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, with money as the weapon. Democracyfreedompluralisticsociety would be created from the primeval mud, with roads and bridges and factories as its Adam, and schools for boys and girls as its Eve. One of the core lies told to the public, and to each other on the ground in Afghanistan, was that a large portion of reconstruction money should be spent on education, even though Afghanistan had few jobs for graduates. “We were building schools next to empty schools, and it just didn’t make sense,” a Special Forces officer explained. “The local Afghans made clear they didn’t really want schools. They said they wanted their kids out herding goats.”

    “There was not a willingness to answer questions such as, what is the meaning of this number of schools that you have built? How has that progressed you towards your goal?” said John Garofano, who supported the First Marine Expeditionary Force in its reconstruction spending in Helmand Province. “How do you show this as evidence of success and not just evidence of effort or evidence of just doing a good thing?”

    And it is on that specific bruised prayer of a lie that Anne Smedinghoff, the only State Department Foreign Service officer to lose a life in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, died.

    This is what all those lies detailed in the Afghan Papers translate into on the ground. Anne was a diplomat, just 25 years old, assigned by the State Department to create good press in Afghanistan so the people at home could see we were winning. It was a hard fight, her work was supposed to show, but the sacrifices were worth it because we are accomplishing this. This in the very specific case which destroyed Anne was handing out unneeded books to Afghans who lacked clean water and childhood vaccines twelve years into America’s longest war so she and (important) more senior people could be photographed doing so. Inside the beltway this was called a “happy snap,” photos of Americans doing good with, albeit always in the background, smiling Afghans lapping it up. Through a series of grossly preventable micro-errors in security nested like Russian dolls inside the macro-error of what Anne or any American was doing in rural Zabul, Afghanistan anyway, Anne’s body was blown into pink mush by jagged fragments of steel from an IED.

    The school where Anne was killed was “built” by the U.S. in October 2009, only to enjoy a $135,000 “renovation” a few months later that included “foundation work, installation of new windows and doors, interior and exterior paint, electricity and a garden.” The original contractor did miserable work but got away with it in the we’ll check later Potemkin world where the appearance of success trumped actual results. The Army noted as the school opened “The many smiles on the faces of both men and women showed all were filled with joy and excitement during this special occasion.” That the Afghans in the area likely needed sewage processing to lower infant mortality levels from water borne disease was irrelevant, they got a freaking school.

    The limited official reporting on what happened to Anne bungled most of the details, and State clung (as they later did with Benghazi, some lessons are learned) to a weak tea that the “cause” of Anne’s death were the actions of the bad guys, anything we did up to our very presence on the ground treated as a kind of background. The desire to not look too deep was underscored by then Secretary of State John Kerry, who said “she tragically gave her young life working to give young Afghans the opportunity to have a better future” and smoothed the media into blending Anne’s death into what the entire world now knows is the fake narrative Anne herself died trying to create.

    Kerry is an easy target because of his Vietnam-era protests, including his famous question to Congress in 1971 “Each day to facilitate the process by which the United States washes her hands of Vietnam someone has to give up his life so that the United States doesn’t have to admit something that the entire world already knows, so that we can’t say that we have made a mistake. We are asking Americans to think about that because how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”

    To the State Department, what mattered in the life and then death of Anne Smedinghoff was damage control to what the Afghan Paper show they secretly knew was an already-failed story.


    Anne was only one of thousands of Americans, and, literally-only-God-knows how many Afghans, who died for the lies in the Afghan Papers. Same in the other countries America made war against, Syria and Libya for example, whose “papers” exposing those lies we await. So that’s why the biggest story of 2019 is the one no one seems to want to talk about, that for the first time in decades we seem to be slowing this all down.

    When someone writes now, in light of the reveals of the Afghan Papers, Anne died in vain, someone else will dismiss that as playing politics with a young woman’s death. But if you will read one more sentence, read this: Anne’s presence in Afghanistan was about politics, and her death delivering books for a photo op was a political act in support of lies. Her death thrusts her into the role of symbolism whether anyone likes that or not, and our job is simply to determine what she is indeed a symbol of and try to learn from that.

    For me, I learned on the same day Anne died an airstrike elsewhere in Afghanistan inadvertently killed ten children. I learned on the nights I think too much about things like that it usually takes a fair amount of tequila to abort my thoughts. And I take no pride in admitting I usually just drink from the bottle. But tonight I’ll use a glass, so I can raise it to Anne. I know she won’t be the last, there’ll be another set of “papers,” but there’s always hope at the bottom of a glass, isn’t there?


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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Recent Comments

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Holy shit, Peter, your article is not one day old and it needs a rewrite starting with the first paragraph. FoX News is rotting your brain, dude. In case you missed it, Trumpie started one with Iran. As usual, it was based on lies.

      “US. officials, briefing conservative think-tank experts on Friday, said the U.S. had “exquisite intelligence” on a plot to strike Americans in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, according to someone familiar with the call. By killing Soleimani, the officials said, they disrupted such plans.”

      Well, one guy doesnt start a war, unless it is the lunatic in the White House.

      So Iran is planning to kill Americans. Sounds like war to me. Killing one man aint gonna stop Iran.

      But in case it is the usual lies from the CIA, then we started the war, right?

      Slowing down? Hell, we are just getting started.

      01/3/20 8:28 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Coming headlines: Iran Destroys Trump Tower, Warns US Not to Retaliate

      Iranian officials announced it received exquisite intelligence and took this action to prevent US plans to kill thousands of Iranians around the world. Iran said it was not meant for regime change and hoped this action would deter criminal acts by a rogue state.

      01/3/20 8:39 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Trumpie picked a bad time to trust THE DEEP STATE.

      01/3/20 8:58 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Iran announced today that it would begin peace talks with the US if it turned over Donald J. Trump for trial for his war crimes.

      President Elizabeth Warren is studying the proposal.

      01/3/20 9:44 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Bauer- you are truly a man of the times. The term “hater” was perhaps coined to fit someone like you. Most normal people have no illusions about how awful this empire is but still hope for a soft landing. You on the other hand opened a lay away account to build your bomb shelter long ago. I’d rather share a bottle of tequila with PVB than join you in chugging a 40 ouncer of bile.

      01/4/20 9:15 AM | Comment Link

    • Ruch Bauer said...


      Stupid is as stupid dies.

      The same cast of characters who cheered on the Iraq War are cheering on the Iran War.

      Insanity is doing the same….oh, fuck it.

      01/4/20 10:07 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Bauer: AIPAC to Trump: “There’s an Iranian warrior chief who is determined to give us a lot of misery so you should extinguish him. If we do it then we’ll get hit hard. If you do it- most likely not much will happen.”
      Trump: “Well, he sounds like a bad hombre for sure so why not? It’ll make me look manly and help out the Jews who I’ve always admired in a cautious way.”

      01/4/20 10:57 AM | Comment Link

    • teri said...


      So, Pompeo has reliable information that Soleimani was going to kill some Yanks. No doubt true. May have something to do with the US screwing with Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, etc for decades. Dang, those Middle Easterners sure are touchy about being blown up in wars they didn’t start.

      But no-one told the Americans in Iraq or other ME countries about this nefarious plot which put them in imminent danger. Then Trump assassinates Soleimani so as to remove the “threat”. And NOW the State Dept is telling all Americans who can leave to do so. Sounds kinda backasswards. Sounds like there was no threat until Trump/Pompeo created one. Sounds like wag the dog. Sounds like bullshit.

      01/4/20 1:15 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Once more into the quagmire.

      01/4/20 1:15 PM | Comment Link

    • teri said...


      So Trump couldn’t tell members of Congress because they would “leak the information”, but he was blabbing his big mouth off about the plan 5 days in advance at Mar-a-lago. I gather “classified” means only tell your VERY BESTEST friends. Or maybe he was just telling them to let them know to go long on oil, which would be insider trading, but hey….

      01/4/20 1:40 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Stupid is as stupid dies.

      Pity the thousands of soldiers Putin’s puppet is sending to their deaths.

      01/4/20 2:03 PM | Comment Link

    • Guy Montag said...


      “Anne was only one of thousands of Americans … who died for the lies … Same in the other countries America made war against, … through a series of grossly preventable micro-errors in security nested like Russian dolls … Anne’s body was blown into pink mush by jagged fragments of steel from an IED. ”
      . . .

      Similarily, although six years earlier & in Iraq, Andrea Parhamovich was also killed because of botched security while working for the National Democratic Institute. Her fiancee, the late reporter Michael Hastings, wrote about her death in his 2008 book, “I Lost My Love in Baghdad.”

      Here’s a quote from p. 12 of my 2013 Feral Firefighter blog post “What Burns Faster, Memories or Flames?”:

      “I find her personal writings and her diary… I find a note that says: ‘career, death card.’ Another, dated January 12, says that she and I will ‘take the journey home together.’”

      “The men cannot get the doors open. They cannot get into the car … The grenade doesn’t make a sound when it is dropped … The explosion. In less than a second, the gas tank will catch fire.”
      “She sees her life. It all comes at once.”

      “There is more noise; there is a loud noise. What is faster, sound or memories?”

      “The flames are hot. It is so hot now. What burns faster, memories or flames?”

      “She sees what happens. … Her father … holding a picture of her, inconsolable. She sees her mother shaking softly in church, looking at her face, framed in a picture. … She watches her fiancée writing with tears in his eyes.”

      “It is almost over now. “

      “She sees the rest of her life. She sees the ring. She sees a pure white wedding dress and an aisle. She sees her parents and brothers and sisters and friends smiling proudly. She sees the children and the house. She sees the reunions in Ohio; she feels the warmth and hears the laughter and feels the love for her.”

      “The noise continues, but she is gone.”

      01/4/20 4:04 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Bauer: You really need to accept the fact that your god and Trump’s god are the same warrior god. He- and it is definitely a he not a she- is the Old Testament smiting god the Jews ended up bowing down to. You have more in common with Trump that you can ever imagine.

      01/4/20 4:23 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Teri- The Israelis are pulling the strings regarding our determination to destroy Iran. I suggest you accept that regrettable fact. As a consolation -would you rather it be the “Congolesians” running the planet now? I doubt that.

      01/4/20 6:12 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      It will be a crime if our peace presidunce doesnt win the Peace Prize:

      “Iran has been nothing but problems for many years. Let this serve as a WARNING that if Iran strikes any Americans, or American assets, we have………targeted 52 Iranian sites (representing the 52 American hostages taken by Iran many years ago), some at a very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture, and those targets, and Iran itself, WILL BE HIT VERY FAST AND VERY HARD. “

      52? Why not 53?

      01/4/20 6:33 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      The Iranians will see your 52 and raise you 275 for the Iranians who were shot down…by mistake.

      01/4/20 6:35 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Pompeo Thinks Assassinations Stop Wars

      “The Brits, the French, the Germans all need to understand that what we did, what the Americans did, saved lives in Europe as well,” he said. “This was a good thing for the entire world, and we are urging everyone in the world to get behind what the United States is trying to do to get the Islamic Republic of Iran to simply behave like a normal nation.”

      Yes, we lie, we steal and boy do we kill.

      01/4/20 6:41 PM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...


      Bauer-according to wikipedia the Iranians sent a letter to the captain of the Vincennes just this past July of 2019 asking him to admit to shooting down their airliner and killing 290 civilians.
      The evangelicals want their “end days”. Will Trump oblige? Stay tuned.

      01/5/20 10:35 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Trumpie, you are damn genius. You wanted our troops out of the region.

      Iraq’s parliament has voted to expel the U.S. military from the country.

      Lawmakers voted Sunday in favor of a resolution that calls for ending foreign military presence in the country. The resolution’s main aim is to get the U.S. to withdraw some 5,000 U.S. troops present in different parts of Iraq.

      The vote comes two days after a U.S. airstrike killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani inside Iraq, dramatically increasing regional tensions.

      The Iraqi resolution specifically calls for ending an agreement in which Washington sent troops to Iraq more than four years ago to help in the fight against the Islamic State group.

      01/5/20 11:23 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      If the justification that the assassination prevented plans to kill Americans in the indefinite future, then Kim and Putin with their missile programs aimed at US should be fair game too.

      01/5/20 11:41 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      The Pompous Pig says Americans should feel safer after this assassination. Wow, just think how much safer we will feel when more Iranians are assassinated.

      Meanwhile, State is closing ops in the region…cause it feels really safe to do so.

      01/5/20 12:26 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      OF course, Trumpie wont kill Kim or Putin because they have nuks.

      The Iranians know this well.

      01/5/20 2:05 PM | Comment Link

    • teri said...


      Border Patrol under orders from DHS now detaining Iranian-Americans coming into/returning to the US, even full citizens.


      01/5/20 6:21 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Assuming this Iran fiasco blows up in Trumpies face, he will predictably blame the Deep State for bad intelligence instead of his father’s genes.

      01/6/20 8:20 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Peter, your problems cant be forgotten in a bottle. Try weed. Makes you feel better and you forget your problems too. Starting a new company offering door to door MJ delivery via drone. Calling it InstaGram or Get High. Investors welcome.

      01/6/20 8:59 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Smedinghoff Razor: If you put your life in the hands of idiots, who is the real idiot?

      In that regard, while Trump isnt Hitler, Amerika is just as stupid as Nazi Germany.

      01/6/20 2:00 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Trumpies German SS Genes are Showing

      “You kill one of ours and we will destroy 52 of yours!”

      01/6/20 2:47 PM | Comment Link

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