US Military: Don't Believe What the Taliban Told Us Thousands of Times

“More Taliban insurgents are being killed or captured than ever before, yet when the captives are interrogated by the American military, they remain convinced that they are winning the war.

That is because the Taliban believe that their own hearts-and-minds campaign is winning over Afghans — or so they tell their interrogators — and even converting a growing number of Afghan government officials and soldiers.

Those are among some of the findings of a NATO report, ‘State of the Taliban 2012,’ based on 27,000 interrogations of 4,000 Taliban and other captives that portrays a Taliban insurgency that is far from vanquished or demoralized even as the United States and its allies enter what they hope will be the final phase of the war.”—NYT: Taliban Captives Dispute U.S. View on Afghanistan War

I’m currently reading—ever so freaking slowly—Steven Pinker’s marvelous The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Just yesterday I read, in a chapter on violence motivated by a desire for dominance, Pinker quoting Donald Rumsfeld in the run up to the Iraq war:

“There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” 

Pinker adds, “(Dominic) Johnson, following a remark by the philosopher Slavoj Zizek, notes that Rumsfeld omitted a crucial fourth category, the unknown knowns, things that are known, or at least could be known, but are ignored or suppressed.” (Emphasis mine. BTW, the Johnson quote comes from his book Overconfidence and War: The Havoc and Glory of Positive Illusions.)

Well, it’s deva vu all over again, kids. The U.S. Military, in the guise of NATO, compiles a report based on tens of thousands of interviews and concludes, “’Taliban commanders, along with rank and file members, increasingly believe their control of Afghanistan is inevitable,’ the report said. ‘Though the Taliban suffered severely in 2011, its strength, motivation, funding and tactical proficiency remains intact,’” according to a quote from the report in the Times article. 

But how does the U.S. Military spin this for public consumption? “’It is important not to draw conclusions based on Taliban comments or musings,” Colonel (Jimmie E.) Cummings said.” The Times article also quotes a State Department spokesperson who similarly downplays the value of the report’s conclusions. 

Translation: “We conducted tens of thousands of interrogations and compiled the findings in a report that conflicts with our official assessments, so in spite of the great effort and expense we went to to learn this information, we are are choosing to unknow what we know. Please do the same.”

As we’ve seen only too well, delusion and denial are a shitty way to run a war. Will we never learn? Apparently not.