September 21, 2021

Ex-Official Matthew Hoh, Who Resigned over Afghan War, Says U.S. Mistakes Helped Taliban Gain Power

9 min read

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
As we continue to look at Afghanistan, we’re joined by Matthew Hoh, a former marine and State Department official. In 2009, he became the first U.S. official known to resign in protest over the Afghan War. At the time of his resignation, he was serving as the senior U.S. civilian in Zabul province on the Pakistani border. In his resignation letter, Matthew Hoh wrote, “I have lost understanding of and confidence in the strategic purposes of the United States’ presence in Afghanistan. I have doubts and reservations about our current strategy and planned future strategy, but my resignation is based not upon how we are pursuing this war, but why and to what end.” Matthew Hoh is now a fellow at the Center for International Policy.
Matthew, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you just respond to not only what has happened in Afghanistan, but the U.S. media coverage of this and who is framing the narrative?
MATTHEW HOH: Thank you for having me back on, Amy.
I mean, it is — I think the only thing more tragic than what’s happened to the Afghan people is that in a few days America will have forgotten Afghanistan again. So, right now we’re seeing a tremendous amount of coverage. A lot of it is really poor coverage, very simplistic, sticking with the narratives of the war, failing to look at the evidence. I mean, right now the prevailing narrative is that Afghanistan collapsed because Joe Biden pulled 2,500 troops from a country the size of Texas. That is like the depth and, you know, thought that is going into this conversation in most major American media.
This war — or, this ending — and I shouldn’t say “ending,” because Afghanistan is at a very precarious point right now. This could be the beginning of, you know, what will be a cruel peace, an unjust peace, but perhaps an opportunity for Afghans to rebuild and reconcile, if the violence is kept to a minimum. Or it could be just the next phase in this civil war that goes back to the 1970s, because what you have, you have warlords, who many of the warlords sided with the Taliban over the last few weeks or months — however, there are many warlords who did not — as well as men in the government like Amrullah Saleh, who was Ashraf Ghani’s vice president, who is now declaring himself the legitimate president of Afghanistan, along with warlords like Mohammad Atta Noor, Abdul Rashid Dostum, who have fled the country. These are men who do not give up easily. These are men who want back what they believe is theirs. And these are men who have long histories with the American CIA. And that’s where the CIA’s allegiance may lie.
So, we are at a path here where there may be a path, because of this cruel and unjust peace, towards rebuilding a reconciliation, or this may just be the first phase in the new part of this ongoing civil war, because the Americans can look at this and say, “Look, this is exactly how Afghanistan looked on September 10, 2001. There are some warlords holed up in some provinces. The Taliban control most of the country.” And I can guarantee you there are people in Washington, D.C., right now who are saying, “We did it in 2001. We could do it again. And this time we’ll do it better.” And so, it’s a very scary position to be in, I think, right now for the Afghans, for a number of reasons.
However, with regard to the media coverage, you see — you know, to put it simply, you see the same people who have been wrong about this war trotted out over and over again. The commentary is simplistic. It relies on the narratives. You have commentators who say things about the war, about how Afghanistan, prior to Joe Biden’s withdrawal, was in a period of relative stability, how there had been progress — you know, just complete lies and fabrications that are very easy to fact-check, but that don’t.
And I think this is why Joe Biden could go and speak to the American public on Monday about a war that has devastated millions of lives, so much suffering, and Joe Biden can open his remarks by lying about his opposition to the surge in 2009, which he did not oppose — you know, basically, he just wanted to send less troops than President Obama did, 10,000 less out of 100,000; that was Joe Biden’s opposition to the war in 2009: send 90,000 rather than 100,000 — as well as, too, his lie about how the United States was not doing nation-building. There’s a media environment here where Joe Biden and his people knew he could just open up those remarks with those lies, and it would just be accepted.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go — let’s go back to President Biden’s address on Monday, when he came in from Camp David as he was being fiercely criticized for the chaos in Kabul and what’s happened in Afghanistan. This is his address about the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I’ve argued for many years that our mission should be narrowly focused on counterterrorism, not counterinsurgency or nation-building. That’s why I opposed the surge when it was proposed in 2009, when I was vice president.

AMY GOODMAN: Matthew Hoh?
MATTHEW HOH: Well, I think there’s so many things to unpack here. Getting back to the media, there is a narrative that the U.S. just didn’t try hard enough. The outcome — so, when Barack Obama comes into office in 2009, there are 30,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and an equivalent number of NATO troops and contractors. Within a year and a half, there are 100,000 American troops, 40,000 NATO troops and over 100,000 contractors. And so the United States had a quarter-million-man army in Afghanistan. And again, Joe Biden’s opposition to that was to send 10,000 less troops. So, Joe Biden’s opposition would have looked like 240,000 troops and contractors in Afghanistan as opposed to 250,000.
The statements about not being a nation-building effort — I was on a unit that was called a provincial reconstruction team. I mean, the lie that — saying that to millions of men and women who served in Afghanistan, who went over there, took part in this nation-building effort — and they knew they took part in a nation-building effort — and then have the president of the United States to so easily lie about how it wasn’t about nation-building, I think that is one of the best explanations for this war, for all these wars in the Muslim world, is this, just the ease of lying that occurs.
And the United States — the third point about this, the United States did try counterterrorism. The counterterrorism strategy that Joe Biden is speaking of is the strategy that General Petraeus utilized after General McChrystal left and when the United States switched from counterinsurgency to counterterrorism. And what did that mean? That meant bombing villages and doing night raids, sending commandos 20 times a night into Afghan villages to kick in doors and kill people. And you saw the results of that. The results of that was, every year, the Taliban got stronger. Every year, the Taliban gained more support.
And this comes to the whole folly of what the United States did there. For decades, the United States gave the Afghan people two choices: You can either support the Taliban or you can support this government composed of warlords and drug lords, that is corrupt, undemocratic — because all the elections have been incredibly illegitimate and fraudulent — and predatory. And the United States used a divide-and-conquer strategy to try and achieve its objectives in Afghanistan, just as it did in Iraq with pitting the Shias versus the Sunnis. And so, what you have is you had an — you know, what you have is, again, this choice: pick the Taliban or this government. And what has occurred in this last year is that Afghans, including non-Pashtuns — Pashtuns, being a plurality of the country of Afghanistan, they are the ones who primarily made up the Taliban, who made up Taliban leadership, etc., who have been on the wrong side of the American divide-and-conquer strategy. But not only Taliban supported — I’m sorry, not only the Pashtuns supported the Taliban, but Afghans from all parts of the country, all ethnicities have supported the Taliban, because that’s how bad of an option the Afghan government has been to the Afghan people for these last two decades.
So, another aspect of the media coverage is just the inability or the unwillingness of the American media to speak about what the Afghan government was truly like. We hear a lot about women’s rights right now — and we should. It’s very important. It’s incredibly important. But how many Americans know that, under the Afghan government, four out of five — as many as four out of five Afghan women were forcibly married, many of them child brides? How many Americans know that in Afghanistan, under Afghan law, it’s legal for a man to rape his wife, or that in Afghan government prisons, the majority of women who are in Afghan prisons are not there because they were supporting the Taliban, but because of moral crimes? So, yes, maybe this Afghan government, this warlord government, was not as theatrical in its misogyny as the Taliban was, in terms of executing and stoning women in stadiums. And, yes, for many — there were women who benefited over the last 20 years. But for the vast majority of women in Afghanistan, life has not been better, especially since their primary concern, for two decades now, has been being killed by a Taliban bomb in the road or American bomb dropped from the sky. And I should say, not them, but their family, their children, their neighbors, etc. So, there’s been a lot left out of the American media coverage —
AMY GOODMAN: Matthew Hoh, speaking of what we don’t know — and we just have a minute — Central Intelligence Agency, the CIA forces in Afghanistan. What should we understand? And what has the Pegasus spyware revealed?
MATTHEW HOH: Well, it’s my understanding that — and for people who aren’t familiar with the Pegasus spyware, this is an Israeli-produced spyware that basically hacks phones, communications. If you look at what occurred in Mexico, many of the politicians assassinated in Mexico over the last year had this Pegasus spyware on their phone. And that my understanding is that there are Pegasus spyware transcripts available that show collusion over this last year between the CIA, between the Afghan government and between the Taliban.
Look, what occurred in Afghanistan did not occur just in a matter of weeks. This was an offensive planned by the Taliban for well more than a year. And the results of that have been incredibly successful and for the Taliban. So, the question needs to be asked, is: Why is the American public so unaware of what was actually occurring in Afghanistan? To get back your point about the media.
And as we go forward, I think the important thing to do is for the Americans to choose the path of supporting the Afghans by helping them to rebuild and reconcile. To do that, the American Embassy must remain open. If people want refugees to leave, the American Embassy must remain open. Funding must continue, if you want organizations like TOLOnews to stay on the air. TOLOnews was funded by the Americans. Americans have been funding it for decades now. In order for the media to stay alive in Afghanistan, the U.S. government must continue to support it. So, at this point, the American government must remain engaged in Afghanistan for the sake of the Afghan people. And if people —
AMY GOODMAN: Matthew Hoh, we’re going to leave it there, because in our next segment, we are going to talk about Afghan refugees, someone involved in the resettlement of Afghan refugees in the United States. But we’re going to get back to you in the coming days. All of this is such critical information that we are not getting from the corporate media. Matthew Hoh, senior fellow with the Center for International Policy, former marine in [Iraq] and State Department official in Afghanistan, who resigned in 2009, the first U.S. official to publicly resign in protest over the Afghan War.
Coming up, we speak with a Texas migrant rights group, RAICES, about resettling Afghan refugees and response to Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott testing positive for coronavirus as he vilifies migrants for spreading COVID-19. Stay with us.