Mattis: No, the war in Afghanistan isn't ‘just one undistinguished defeat after another’

Bullet Points
Former Secretary of Defense James N. Mattis (DoD photo)

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis, who led a Marine task force to Afghanistan shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, said the Washington Post's recent reporting about the U.S. government's pattern of lies about the war over the last two decades is not "revelatory."

Mattis, who was interviewed by the Washington Post's David Ignatius on Friday, also said he does not believe the U.S. government made any efforts to hide the true situation in Afghanistan and he argued the war has not been in vain.

Here are 10 key quotes from Mattis regarding the Washington Post's reporting in the 'Afghanistan Papers.'


  • "Well, it is investigative reporting. I think it's been well done in that sense. But I have a hard time seeing it as all that revelatory. The difficulty of Afghanistan was well understood very early on. There was nothing to build on there. There were no institutions. The population was not educated."
  • "It was very, very hard work. This was noted in your papers. I have walked the ground with your reporters beside me, who were embedded in the units, who were watching this close up. The reporting, I thought, was pretty accurate. The idea that there was any kind of an effort to hide this perplexes me."
  • "This has been going on for many years. And I think when you look at the progress – and there is undeniable progress in education, in public health, and other areas – and there has been terrible consequences under violence. The violence has just been heartbreaking there."
  • "After the Russian invasion the entire society was torn apart and we had to start worse than from scratch. We had to start with a people that didn't believe in tomorrow. They couldn't. They were out to do whatever they could today to take care of their family, their tribe, and it's been maddeningly complex."
  • "We've also taken our eye off the ball at times. I was there in 2001, early 2002, and I was one of those pulled out to prepare for the invasion of Iraq."
  • "The Taliban has not proven trustworthy. So in this case, instead of going with 'Trust but verify;' I think we're going to have to go with 'Verify and then trust.' And what we would specifically look at here: 1. Is the break with Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda attacked this country. From the very beginning we've told the Taliban: You break with Al Qaeda. Our issue is with them. It's not with you."
  • "We'll need to keep counterterrorism troops there for some time to keep Al Qaeda from regenerating and to keep ISIS down."
  • "I think the president was right to start the negotiation with the Taliban. I think he was right to call it off when the bombings occurred and say there's a cost to this."
  • "The Taliban's goal is to take over this country and they've been stopped in that at great cost to the Afghan people, at great cost to the Afghan army. If you read this, you'd almost think it's a total disaster and it's not that at all. It's been hard as hell but it's not just one undistinguished defeat after another. They are the ones on the back foot."
  • "You can say they control a lot of ground. A lot of the ground they control doesn't have any population in it and the Army's not trying to protect that area – or it has a very limited population."

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