Editor’s Note: Watch ‘America’s Longest War: What Went Wrong in Afghanistan’ on Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on CNN
US commanders who led the war in Afghanistan are wrestling with the country’s collapse to the Taliban, with some ruing the “pretty horrible mistakes” the US military made along the way and one of them flatly declaring America’s longest war was not worth the price.
“The 20-year war in Afghanistan was – for the results that we have achieved – not worth the cost,” Karl Eikenberry, both a commander in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2007 and ambassador to the country from 2009 to 2011, tells CNN’s Jake Tapper in a two-hour documentary that airs Sunday.
In “America’s Longest War: What Went Wrong in Afghanistan,” Tapper conducts in-depth interviews with eight US commanders who led the war effort over two decades and four administrations, and who speak with new candor about decisions made by their commanders-in-chief that they believe undermined the war effort and might have prevented its success.
In the interviews with the former military leaders and others, Tapper examines the mission and the missteps, how political decisions hurt the ability of service members to succeed, whether the Pentagon misrepresented the Afghan military’s abilities to the public, and how after 20 years of sacrifice, the US withdrawal resulted in the return to power by the Taliban in August.
After nearly two decades and more than $2 trillion in US taxpayer funds, after the deaths of more than 6,000 Americans and 100,000 Afghans, the bipartisan debacle that was the war in Afghanistan ended much like it began, leaving Americans – especially those directly involved in the conflict – struggling to understand how it all fell apart.
No longer in uniform, Gens. Stanley McChrystal, David Petraeus, Joseph Dunford, John Allen, David McKiernan, Dan McNeill, and Lt. Gens. Eikenberry and David Barno, speak frankly.
Resentment, frustration, regret
They describe their resentment about the way politicians scaled back resources for Afghanistan to fuel the war in Iraq, their frustrations about squandered opportunities and their regrets. They question long-celebrated strategies and – in a preview of the painful national reckoning about Afghanistan that is only just beginning – grapple with whether the mission was worth the cost.
“My first impulse is to say, yes, it was worth it, but I no longer am certain of that,” retired four-star general McNeill, who led coalition forces in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2003 and then US troops from 2007 to 2008, says. “Before I go to my grave, I hope to have that question answered.”
Eikenberry observes, “There really was no clear political end state. That leads to deep questions. Was it worth it? What was it all about?”