The Current

Afghans will not be surprised by documents alleging U.S. failures in war, says activist

We discuss the Afghanistan Papers, a vast trove of documents that shows the war effort against the Taliban was doomed from the beginning — and top US officials knew it.

Orzala Nemat has lived under both Taliban rule and the U.S.-led war

A Canadian soldier deployed in Afghanistan, 2006. Ottawa withdrew from the country in 2014. (Canadian Press)

Read Story Transcript

Documents that allege top U.S. officials tried to hide the disastrous war efforts in Afghanistan would not surprise Afghans, according to a woman who leads development in the country.

"I didn't need them to say that — I could see and witness the failure part of this intervention, and also the success part of it," said Orzala Nemat, director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit, an independent research institute in Kabul.

"Probably it is more shocking and surprising for the families of the troops who served in Afghanistan, and more shocking and surprising for … the taxpayers whose money is being kind of channelled to Afghanistan for different purposes," Nemat told The Current's Laura Lynch.

Thousands of pages of documents obtained by the Washington Post reveal that the U.S. government, across three White House administrations, misled the public about failures in the 18-year war in Afghanistan, often suggesting success where it didn't exist.

Abandoned shoes belonging to victims after a bomb attack are pictured at a Shiite cultural centre in Kabul, Dec. 28, 2017. (Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images)

The Pentagon released a statement Monday, saying there has been "no intent" by the department to mislead Congress or the public.

Nemat said the military intervention should not have happened, adding that the perpetrators behind the Sept. 11 attacks were not found in her country.

"Sending your sons and daughters for military service in Afghanistan was not really worth it," she said.

"No Canadian deserves to be killed here."

'This story has both sides'

While the documents paint a grim picture of the fight against the Taliban, Nemat said the impact on life in her country has been more nuanced.

"We cannot conclude 18 years of intervention with a complete failure, or complete success story," said Nemat, who has lived under both Taliban rule and the U.S.-led war and its aftermath.

"This story has both sides."

After joining the war effort in the fall of 2001, Ottawa withdrew from Afghanistan in 2014, but spent billions and lost more than 160 lives over a 13-year campaign. 

After a 12-year mission, a simple flag-lowering ceremony on Wednesday marked the end of Canada's military involvement in Afghanistan 3:23

While the cost of the war has never been fully accounted, it's estimated that Ottawa spent up to $20 billion on military operations, development assistance and aid.

Throughout the war, funds were siphoned away by corrupt officials, but Nemat said steps were being taken to improve accountability and transparency.

She said development efforts yielded results, adding that the fight against the Taliban was "not a war to be fought by bombs, by airplanes," but rather development and investment in infrastructure and education.

"I am able to today live and work in this country ... we have thousands of women working and serving in government, we have hundreds and thousands of girls going to school," she said.

Grade 4 girls learn to read and write in Pashto at an all-girls school on March 23, 2010, in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan. (Julie Jacobson/Associated Press)

She added that improvements in education has turned the younger generation "into very conscious citizens, in comparison to the past."

Increasingly, she sees more "courage from the younger generation, to stand against corruption, for women's rights and human rights or justice, and for better forms of governance." 

Written by Padraig Moran, with files from The Associated Press and CBC News. Produced by John Chipman, Max Paris and Samira Mohyeddin.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.