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Publisher's Summary

A Washington Post Best Book of 2021 

The number-one New York Times best-selling investigative story of how three successive presidents and their military commanders deceived the public year after year about America’s longest war, foreshadowing the Taliban’s recapture of Afghanistan, by Washington Post reporter and three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Craig Whitlock.

Unlike the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 had near-unanimous public support. At first, the goals were straightforward and clear: Defeat al-Qaeda and prevent a repeat of 9/11. Yet soon after the United States and its allies removed the Taliban from power, the mission veered off-course and US officials lost sight of their original objectives.

Distracted by the war in Iraq, the US military become mired in an unwinnable guerrilla conflict in a country it did not understand. But no president wanted to admit failure, especially in a war that began as a just cause. Instead, the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations sent more and more troops to Afghanistan and repeatedly said they were making progress, even though they knew there was no realistic prospect for an outright victory. 

Just as the Pentagon Papers changed the public’s understanding of Vietnam, The Afghanistan Papers contains “fast-paced and vivid” (The New York Times Book Review) revelation after revelation from people who played a direct role in the war, from leaders in the White House and the Pentagon to soldiers and aid workers on the front lines. In unvarnished language, they admit that the US government’s strategies were a mess, that the nation-building project was a colossal failure, and that drugs and corruption gained a stranglehold over their allies in the Afghan government. All told, the account is based on interviews with more than 1,000 people who knew that the US government was presenting a distorted, and sometimes entirely fabricated, version of the facts on the ground.

Documents unearthed by The Washington Post reveal that President Bush didn’t know the name of his Afghanistan war commander - and didn’t want to meet with him. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld admitted that he had “no visibility into who the bad guys are”. His successor, Robert Gates, said: “We didn’t know jack shit about al-Qaeda.” 

The Afghanistan Papers is a “searing indictment of the deceit, blunders, and hubris of senior military and civilian officials” (Tom Bowman, NRP Pentagon Correspondent) that will supercharge a long-overdue reckoning over what went wrong and forever change the way the conflict is remembered.

©2021 Craig Whitlock and The Washington Post (P)2021 Simon & Schuster Audio

Critic Reviews

"Craig Whitlock has forged a searing indictment of the deceit, blunders, and hubris of senior military and civilian officials, with the same tragic echoes of the Vietnam conflict. The American dead, wounded, and their families deserved wiser and more honorable leaders.” (Tom Bowman, NPR Pentagon correspondent)

“At once page-turning and rigorous, The Afghanistan Papers makes a lasting and revelatory contribution to the record of America's tragic management of our longest war. In transparent and nuanced detail, Whitlock chronicles how American leaders and commanders undermined their country's promises to the Afghans who counted on them and to the US troops who made the ultimate sacrifice after 9/11.” (Steve Coll, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Ghost Wars and Directorate S)

The Afghanistan Papers is a gripping account of why the war in Afghanistan lasted so long. The missed opportunities, the outright mistakes, and more than anything, the firsthand accounts from senior commanders who only years later acknowledged they simply did not tell the American people what they knew about how the war was going.” (Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon correspondent) 

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Eye-Opening Book

I feel I could roughly give an overview of what happened in Afghanistan and why, being someone that was deployed their 2x. and never getting the feeling that we where making any real progress when I was their. But this book really fills in the details in a spectacular way. To be sure, it's easy to look back on history and see the screwups, but it's another thing that it was so blatantly obvious at the time.

15 people found this helpful

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When all fails- blame Obama

This book truly made me angry. To now know 2 trillion dollars were wasted in Afghanistan when there are so many working homeless, tax paying US citizens who could have used some of this funding for affordable housing. All the hungry children this country has and to know how money was wasted. I hope the US has learned to stay out of other counties affairs but I'm sure it hasn't. When this turned into nation building the US should have had to good sense to walk away. I don't like Biden or Obama either but I'm glad Biden did leave that expensive war and I hope now these wasted funds can go to those in need here in the US.

9 people found this helpful

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Infuriating!

I work for the government. They love six sigma, "slow, achievable progress," and looooong careers absent any accountability.

This book explains how that happens and how devastating that can be.

7 people found this helpful

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An important book

You’ll be frustrated as hell reading/listening to this book, but that’s because you’ll feel betrayed for having been lied to for 2 decades. The information within is so important and it was hidden from us for too long.

7 people found this helpful

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Don’t put a $10 saddle on a $5 horse.

Don’t put a $10 saddle on a $5 horse was advice a lot of us new engineers received years ago. This is a lesson a lot of political and military leaders failed to learn. In this case it was a $1000 saddle. What is sad is that so many so called “intelligent people” can not admit that they really don’t know what they are doing and think they know better than the people they are trying to help. The comment by Elizabeth Warren is worth the price of the book.

5 people found this helpful

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A sobering story

As someone who has read widely about the Vietnam war, this presents a powerful view of the similarities of the war and enemy combatants. Like Vietnam, we tried to bring democracy to a land that we did not, nor did we try to, understand. I would like to believe that we have learned our lesson, but I doubt it. Until we stop the interference of people within our own country who have their own personal gain continue, we will never succeed.

4 people found this helpful

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Redundancy

A great eye-opener for sure! Some of the chapters where very redundant and a lot of information repeated itself. The Narration was done well but overall I got the sense that the book was rushed to be released with fee time spent on editing.

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Greatest show on earth!

So far, this book has been great at illustrating how this entire war has been a complete s#!t show. The performance has been great, and the release date couldn't have been better. I think the way we pulled out deserves its criticism, but what a fitting end, right? A 20 year s#!t show circus ends in a complete s#!t show circus. I'm just grateful that Americans always learn from past mistakes...
Great work, Craig.

4 people found this helpful

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wow everyone should read

I think everyone should read this. 9 11 changed out entire world and no matter your thoughts it has impacted you.

3 people found this helpful

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Surprised (Not)

Craig Whitlock has penned an outstanding summary of his incredible investigative work for the Washington Post concerning the USA’s longest war. Anyone wishing for a solid background on the decades of mismanagement and deception that helped keep the US involved in Afghanistan should listen to or read this book.

3 people found this helpful

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  • C. Doyle
  • 09-09-21

Breathtaking ...

Having studied and taught both history and international relations it comes as no surprise that the west was so hopelessly out of it's depth in almost all conflicts post the second world war. What becomes clear when listening to this first class audiobook is just how badly the war in Afghanistan was conducted. From top to bottom, from country to country, from inept policy maker to corrupt indigenous officials this majestic narrative provides the facts and almost eye popping figures for what has become a symbol of American humiliation ... I listened to the entire book in less than three days! I would recommend this title wholeheartedly for those who want to get to the crux of this most devastating of conflicts and for those who, like me, are fascinated by the disconnect between the propaganda and reality.
Craig Whitlock uses a really compelling mix of almost anecdotal reflection based on sources of evidence and statistics that reinforce and elaborate upon the points being made. Easy to understand and doesn't fall into the trap of simply repeating facts and figures ... looking forward to reading the book when it arrives!

1 person found this helpful

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  • Red river 6
  • 09-09-21

It’s fine

If you know nothing about war/history. It’s fine.

But it’s kinda soft, bit wishaywashy

& he dates “oral history interview “ about a 1000 times. Gets irritating

But otherwise ok 👍

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  • Ai Shaheen
  • 09-06-21

Excellent book

Timing of the book can either be an uncanny coincidence or this too, is a part of dirty politics of establishment! Excellent book with full of facts which, we the non US citizens knew long time ago. Clear and crisp narration of Dan Bittner is one of the best. It keeps listener glued to the book.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Arkhidamos
  • 12-29-21

Devastating critique of Afghanistan war

The private thoughts laid out by military and political participants in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan are devastating on two counts.

One, it outlines the extent to which they were willing to lie to the American public, lies in which the other NATO governments colluded. The really barmy thing is (missed by this book because of its US-centric approach) that plenty of policy analysts, observers and citizens in the NATO countries were openly saying that the war was unwinnable from day one. If this book proves anything, it’s that they were right. You can hypothesise a world in which the US military under Bush concentrated on the capture of Bin Laden rather than nation building, you can imagine an invasion force which took seriously the differences between US/Western and the multiple Afghan cultures, and you can pretend that being smarter in respect of Pakistan’s double dealing might have avoided the major problems that confronted the war. But this is to misunderstand how wars are fought and what exactly Bush and his PNAC coterie wanted: billions in private sector contracts for their campaign contributors and a reliable geostrategic counterweight in Central Asia. Both Obama and Trump, regardless of their campaigns, joined in the US military establishment’s groupthink, wasting blood and treasure on nothing.

Two, even if you believe that nation building etc are valid goals, the book is devastating towards how utterly incompetent the US in particular but also the NATO-led ISAF forces were at doing any of this. Stupidity, self-interest, cowardice and plenty of other epithets can be applied to many of the characters whose actions are depicted in this book. Yet these are intelligent people - experienced soldiers, graduates of elite universities, some of righteous purpose with more sensitivity to their mission, personally courageous. In their unguarded moments, they identify for themselves many of the key failures. Yet despite their rank, access to or their own place in the political establishment and the resources at their disposal, none of them could do anything. That’s the extent of the madness of the Western political systems, which ultimately governed the “intervention” (invasion and occupation) of Afghanistan.

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  • Phillip
  • 09-21-21

phenomenal

Brilliant investigative journalism, so interesting and informative. Amazingly written by Craig Whitlock beautifully narrated by Dan Bittner 🎶📚🏆

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  • Danielle Phillips
  • 10-26-21

Afghanistan Papers.... Loved it

Loved this book, so informative and insightful. Well read and easy to listen to.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 10-10-21

Good overview of 20 years. fudged ending in Sep 21

Good matter of fact summary of 20 year conflict but huge let down at the end with a teary eyed vision of Pres Biden at Arlington national cementary as he made the decision to leave. The traumatic way we left and the many lives lost could have been the culmination of the poor senior leader decisions over 20 years. The Rumsfeld theme of "power up" has never ended or worked!

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  • Anonymous User
  • 09-11-21

Important history

What a timely and necessary piece of journalistic history.
The whole narrative is written to show what a waste of time the war in afghanistan was, the lives lost, the money wasted on corrupt, inept afghanis and contractors who just spent the money because it needed to be spent. The secretive accounts from different groups figures through three administrations really express a candid and confusing picture about the war, and what the point of it all was. My only real critique of this book is that it doesn’t detail enough about the civilians killed and the role of private mercenaries in the Middle East.
Biden was 100% right to get out this war became pointless 10 or so years ago. And was dragged on for nothing in the end. The government fell in a day and all the taliban had to do was ride it out.
The US is terrible and grossly incompetent at war, they know how to blow things up and waste money well and that’s it.
When bin laden was killed that should have been it. US generals prolonged this thing and lied to the US public and the world for 2 decades. I feel for the women of Afghanistan.
There is a very poignant point made in the book which sums up the better method of engagement, take a bunch of fifth graders educate them elsewhere and then send them back to run the place I have to agree that would have been better than the last 2 decades of war.