Craig Whitlock, author of The Afghanistan Papers, said that Obama was deeply misguided when, in December 2014, he declared that the war was over.
He said that the ‘baldfaced’ declaration ranked as ‘among the most egregious deceptions and lies that U.S. leaders spread during two decades of warfare.’
Whitlock writes that Obama’s address even felt hollow at the time – the statement was delivered from Hawaii, while the then-president relaxed on vacation, and the ceremony was held in a gymnasium, where several dozen people sat on folding chairs.
Obama said that U.S. forces would from then on only be acting in an advisory capacity, and leave the combat roles to Afghan national security forces.
But Whitlock points out that, in reality, the U.S. fighting barely dimmed.
Barack Obama is pictured in October 2015 making a statement on Afghanistan, and announcing that troops would remain in the country after he left office – despite his declaration less than a year previously that the war was over
Afghan soldiers stand guard at the gate of Bagram air base on July 2 – the day the last American troops left
Bagram Air Base was once the heart of a huge U.S. military operation. Since July is has been largely deserted
A Taliban flag is seen flying in the main square in Kunduz on Sunday after the Islamists captured the city
By October 2015, Obama had accepted the facts and told the nation that at least 5,500 troops would remain in Afghanistan after he left office in January 2017.
‘I do not support the idea of endless war, and I have repeatedly argued against marching into open-ended military conflicts,’ Obama said from the Roosevelt Room in the White House.
Craig Whitlock’s book has been serialized in The Washington Post
‘Yet given what’s at stake in Afghanistan, I am firmly convinced that we should make this extra effort.’
Obama, in his first term, had ordered a ‘surge’ of 100,000 troops to try and get the job done. From 2009-11 there was a huge U.S. presence in the country.
But by December 2014, when Obama announced the end of the war, only 38 per cent of the public said the war had been worth fighting, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Whitlock, in excerpts published by The Washington Post, writes that the Obama administration attempted to sell the U.S. presence as merely advisory, while knowing that they were playing an extremely active role.
In 2015 and 2016, the U.S. military launched missiles and bombs on 2,284 occasions – an average of more than three times a day, Whitlock writes.
Obama is seen in December 2010 delivering his annual Afghanistan-Pakistan review
He notes that U.S. officials knew that the Afghan forces were unable to do the job.
In February 2015, Ash Carter, Obama’s defense secretary, visited Afghanistan and claimed that progress had been made.
‘A lot has changed here, so much of it for the better,’ Carter said in Kabul at a news conference with Ashraf Ghani, the Afghan president.
‘Our priority now is to make sure this progress sticks.’
Yet in Kandahar Airfield, on the same trip, he let slip a more realistic assessment.
‘It’s not that the Afghans aren’t good at fighting. They are. But just a few years ago there really was no Afghan National Security Force at all,’ he said.
‘They’re getting on their feet now, and they’re beginning to do the things alone that we used to do for them.’
Obama administration officials had concluded that the only way to end the war and to stabilize Afghanistan was for the Afghan government to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban, Whitlock writes.
Obama is seen in May 2014 during a surprise visit to Bagram Air Field to address the troops
Obama is seen greeting some of the soldiers during his May 2014 visit to Afghanistan
It put the U.S. troops of being in a position that prevented them from attacking the Taliban – to the bewilderment of Congress.
By the time Obama left the White House in January 2017, about 8,400 troops remained.
The next month, Army Gen. John Nicholson Jr. appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Asked whether the United States was winning or losing, he replied: ‘I believe we’re in a stalemate.’