Veterans group urges Risch to hold hearings on Afghanistan papers


“American people have constantly been lied to,” office of inspector general reports

BOISE, Idaho – The Idaho leader of a new national veterans organization Tuesday in a letter urged Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jim Risch, R-Id., to hold committee hearings on a newly-disclosed, 2,000-page government report – acquired through a Freedom of Information Act request by the Washington Post – which indicates government officials have misled and lied to the American people about the systematic failures and lack of strategy in the eighteen year old war in Afghanistan.

Dan McKnight, Meridian, who spent eighteen months in Afghanistan with the Idaho Army National Guard – and who earlier this year founded BringOurTroopsHome.US, which last month organized a nationwide conference of veterans in Washington, D.C. – Tuesday led a delegation of fifteen veterans and supporters who hand-delivered the letter to Risch’s U.S. Senate office in Boise.

“As a constituent and an Afghanistan veteran, I respectfully but strongly encourage you to hold hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to address these deeply disturbing revelations about the endless war in that country, and hold accountable those who’ve withheld the truth from the American people,” McKnight wrote to Risch.

McKnight wrote that the report, comprised of interviews of over 600 government officials by the Special Investigator General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) — which has received relatively little public attention since the Post made it public a week ago, due to the news media’s focus on impeachment proceedings against President Trump – “reveal a troubling pattern of miscalculations, lack of strategic planning, deception, and blatant disregard for the truth and for the front-line data that came from those of us who fought this endless war on the ground.”

“SIGAR’s findings document that a succession of presidential administrations has been fully aware of our failure to define a clear mission and the ongoing fraud, waste, corruption, and inability to build a sustainable central Afghan government and competent Afghan army and police force,” McKnight wrote. “Yet, backed by Pentagon commanders and State Department diplomats, they knowingly distorted statistics to assure the American people, year after year, that we were making progress and that this war, at the cost of nearly 3,000 of my fellow service members who lost their lives fighting there, was worth it — all the while confessing in private communications with each other their certain knowledge that it was not.”

McKnight cited examples of SIGAR’s findings:

* Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the three-star general responsible for overseeing the war in Afghanistan, who told SIGAR: “We lacked the most basic understanding of Afghanistan, we had no idea what we were doing. Lute went on to lament the deaths of U.S. military personnel that he blamed on bureaucratic entanglements between the State Department, the Pentagon and Congress, The Hill, another Washington, D.C. political publication reported.

* Col. Bob Crowley, U.S. Army, senior counterinsurgency adviser to U.S. military commanders in 2013 and 2014, who told SIGAR that “every data point was altered to present the best picture possible. Surveys, for instance, were totally unreliable but reinforced that everything we were doing was right.”

* John Sopko, head of SIGAR, who told the Post that the documents demonstrate “the American people have constantly been lied to” on Afghanistan.

“Any government official who privately held such an opinion, while allowing the waste of American lives and trillions of dollars squandered to continue,” McKnight wrote, “should be hauled before your committee, questioned, and publicly held accountable for deceiving and defrauding the American people.”

“American soldiers are dead, Senator, because the people quoted in these documents didn’t tell us the truth,” McKnight wrote, “and now that thousands of pages of evidence are available to you and your committee, it is your job — as it was when you served as Ada County prosecutor — to ferret out the truth, share it with the public, and hold somebody somewhere somehow accountable for lying to the American people and for American lives lost as a result.”

McKnight also requested that he and other veterans have the opportunity to testify before Risch’s committee “on behalf of the vast majority of veterans who believe — as this report now documents — that the war in Afghanistan has continued for far too long without clarity, purpose, or hope for success, and should now come to an immediate end.”

McKnight cited three recent polls:

* A Pew Research poll six months ago which found that 58 percent of veterans say the war in Afghanistan was not worth fighting.

Majorities of U.S. veterans, public say the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not worth fighting

* A poll reported by Military Times in April which found that 60 percent of veterans and military families support withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

* A Veterans Day 2018 poll by the Smithsonian Institute which found that 84 percent of military service personnel and veterans agree that the current occupation of Afghanistan has “been going on too long.”

“Having witnessed firsthand the irreparable price paid by my fellow soldiers, I for one am angry about it — as many veterans are — and as I know tens of millions of other Americans will be as the truth of these documents continues to come out,” McKnight wrote. “I respectfully urge you to cast the white hot spotlight of Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings on the outrageous and infuriating disclosures of these newly uncovered government documents, and then — based on the overwhelming weight of evidence they provide — refuse to continue to be a party to allowing this unmitigated, never-ending disaster to continue at the cost of even one more American life, from Idaho or elsewhere.”

McKnight said he has requested a meeting with Risch as soon as possible to discuss the letter.