Forever Wars, 22 November 2022
National-security reporter Spencer Ackerman looks at what he assumes could be the last SIGAR (“pronounced like the thing you smoke”) report, titled “Why Afghanistan’s Government Collapsed” , looks back at SIGAR’s entire reporting history and concludes:
SIGAR told true stories about the trees while avoiding the forest – and the people trying to survive the changing ecosystem. The way to do so, often, was to present the Afghans as incapable and thieving. […]
The war ultimately failed, SIGAR tells us, because of “endemic corruption”—a phrase SIGAR reserves for the Afghan government and never its American patron. [….] American corruption, the inevitable corruption of an endless-war economy, got treated as unfortunate, marginal, or exceptional, rather than as context for Afghan political, economic and security decisions.
He gives two interesting examples:
SIGAR writes that the U.S. did not “resolve the issue of corruption” because doing so “required the cooperation of Afghan elites whose power relied on the very structures that anticorruption efforts sought to dismantle.” That makes the U.S. sound like a passive observer to the “very structures” it built. You can blame Hamid Karzai’s brother for turning Kandahar into his fiefdom and letting the opium trade flourish. But that was all possible because he was a CIA asset. SIGAR lingers a bit on infamous Kandahar “police chief” Abdul Raziq, another narcotrafficker, who presided over “systemic torture, forced disappearances, and summary executions of civilian detainees.” But “[o]n the other hand,” SIGAR continues, “Raziq’s ruthlessness kept Kandahar Province relatively secure.” It also means U.S. officials were willing to accept such war crimes as the cost of securing a crucial promise.
Another important conclusion: Ackerman points out what he calls “the most tragic aspect of SIGAR’s misperceptions of the war”: that SIGAR to tell Americans “that their leaders were lying”. This was left to the Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock who published the Afghanistan papers, namely SIGAR interviees that informed their reports.
One must not agree with every single detail in this self-style ‘rant,’ but it is an essential, concentrated reminder of what we all were able to know.
This article was last updated on 23 Nov 2022