‘We didn’t know what we were doing’
Thousands of pages of documents detailing the war in Afghanistan released by The Washington Post paint a stark picture of missteps and failures — as well as misleading public statements about how the war was going.
After a short-term victory over the Taliban and Al Qaeda in early 2002, the U.S. military’s efforts in the country grew hazy. Even as the Taliban grew and troops voiced concerns about the U.S. strategy’s shortcomings, senior officials almost always said progress was being made. But the documents show they knew otherwise.
Details: The Post said the documents come from 2,000 pages of Pentagon interviews conducted between 2014 and 2018 to write a series of unclassified “Lessons Learned” reports. They were released after a long legal battle with the government’s watchdog for the war.
Quotable: “We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking,” said one retired general who helped oversee the war in Bush and Obama administrations.
A deadly eruption in New Zealand
There are more questions than answers as fears of a rising death toll grow in the wake of a volcano eruption on White Island, a popular destination off the country’s eastern coast. At least five people have been confirmed dead, and eight are still missing.
The New Zealand police said on Tuesday that 31 people were in the hospital and “no signs of life have been seen at any point” on the island by reconnaissance flights. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated on Monday, and more people were stranded.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters on Tuesday that New Zealanders and tourists from Australia, the U.S., Britain, China and Malaysia were among the injured.
What happened: New Zealand’s most active volcano, on the island also known as Whakaari, erupted around 2:11 p.m. local time. Tourists appeared to have little time to seek shelter before the massive eruption. Thousands visit the privately owned island each year.
Warnings: GeoNet, a geological activity monitoring agency, issued an earlier warning of “moderate volcanic unrest” and “substantial gas, steam and mud bursts.” Tourists make their own decisions about whether to visit.
India looks to block citizenship for Muslims
The bill, which would solidify Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist agenda, is expected to easily pass the lower house of Parliament. Most analysts predict it has enough lawmaker support that it will soon become law.
The moves add to fears of official marginalization among India’s 200 million Muslims, especially after the stripping of Kashmir’s autonomy, a court victory allowing Hindu fundamentalists to build a new temple over the ruins of a demolished mosque and citizenship tests in Assam.
Quotable: “We are heading toward totalitarianism, a fascist state,” a Muslim member of Parliament said. “We are making India a theocratic country.”
Impeachment proceedings heat up
A crucial congressional hearing turned testy on Monday as lawyers for Democrats and Republicans sparred over whether President Trump’s actions rose to the level of impeachable offenses.
Democrats say “the evidence is overwhelming,” as their lawyer, Barry Berke, put it. They are arguing that the president’s actions were “so brazen” that there is no question that he abused his power to advance his own political interests over those of the nation.
Republicans say that Democrats are obsessed with impeachment, regardless of facts. Their lawyer, Stephen Castor, maintained that Mr. Trump was not pursuing his interests, but rather was concerned about corruption in Ukraine in pressing for investigations into his Democratic rivals.
Big picture: The hearing will help shape the articles of impeachment Democrats hope to file by the end of the week in their streamlined push to vote by Christmas.
If you have 9 minutes, this is worth it
Inequality at Japan’s top schools
For nearly two decades, enrollment of women at the University of Tokyo, Japan’s most prestigious institution, has hovered around 20 percent. The trend exists at many top Japanese colleges to a far greater extent than at colleges in other Asian countries.
We look at the role played by the country’s deep-seated gender inequality, where women are not expected to achieve as much as men and sometimes hold themselves back from educational opportunities.
Here’s what else is happening
India: The fire at an illegal factory in New Delhi that killed at least 43 people, mostly migrant laborers from poor villages, was one of the country’s worst on record. Our reporters detail how it unfolded.
China: Officials are going on the offensive over mounting evidence of Muslim detention camps in the Xinjiang region, releasing social media videos, editorials and attacks on researchers to depict critics as players in a Western conspiracy.
Russian doping: The World Anti-Doping Agency agreed unanimously to banish Russia from international sports — including next summer’s Olympics — for four years. It does, however, leave open the possibility that individual athletes could compete under a neutral flag. Russian officials have 21 days to lodge an appeal.
Ukraine: President Volodymyr Zelensky met with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in Paris, seeking an end to five and a half years of war in Ukraine’s east.
Myanmar: Human rights advocates supporting the Rohingya Muslim minority called for a global boycott of the country, as its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, is set to appear at genocide hearings beginning today at The Hague.
North Korea: The country pursued its war of words against the U.S., calling President Trump a “heedless and erratic old man” after he warned that the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, could lose “everything” if he resumed military provocations before the 2020 election.
Finland: Sanna Marin, 34, is set to become the world’s youngest sitting prime minister this week.
Sweden: The country’s former ambassador to China has been charged with “arbitrariness during negotiations with a foreign power,” after prosecutors said she held unauthorized meetings with two men representing Chinese state interests.
Snapshot: Above, Japan’s Teshima Art Museum, one of the 25 rooms that influence the way we design, according to experts who gathered for T: The New York Times Style Magazine to list history’s most enduring and significant spaces.
TikTok 100: The viral video app released its year-in-review list naming the top videos, genres, creators and memes that made it the fastest-growing platform of the past year. TikTok is also talking about potential monetization for users.
Golden Globe nominations: Netflix led the TV and film categories with “The Irishman” and “Marriage Story,” while Apple’s new centerpiece, “The Morning Show,” and its stars Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon also racked up nominations.
What we’re reading: Vulture’s list of the year’s top 10 comedy specials. “Check it!” writes our comedy columnist, Jason Zinoman.
Now, a break from the news
Watch: The Times assessed the year in dance. Older works bristled with fresh energy, Joaquin Phoenix reminded us how the body can speak louder than words, and tap came flying back.
Watch: INXS, the Australian rock band, gets a rare moment of visibility in the internet age with the concert film “Live Baby Live,” rolling out in theaters across the globe.
Smarter Living: Are you keeping up with health news? Take our quiz.
And now for the Back Story on …
When The Washington Post published a U.S. military document trove on Monday, many people remarked on the similarity to the Pentagon Papers, which, when made public in 1971 by The New York Times and The Post, helped turn the tide of public opinion against the Vietnam War.
There are obvious similarities. Most notably, both were leaks demonstrating that the U.S. government had knowingly misrepresented a painful, costly war to the American public for years.
But there are differences, too.
The Pentagon Papers were a secret account of the Vietnam War commissioned by President John F. Kennedy’s defense secretary, Robert McNamara. They were leaked by Daniel Ellsberg, a military analyst who had worked on the study. And they revealed aspects of the war that had gone largely unreported by major media, including the widening of U.S. activity to include bombing Cambodia and Laos.
In contrast, the Afghanistan documents were, according to The Post, drawn from military interviews used to write a series of reports that were publicly released. The Post obtained the documents under the Freedom of Information Act — though it had to sue twice.
And keen readers of war coverage may find few surprises in the uncertainty of battlefield commanders about strategy, goals and the exact nature of the enemy.
As to the effect on public opinion, that remains to be seen.
That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.
To Mark Josephson and Eleanor Stanford for the break from the news. Andrea Kannapell, the Briefings editor, wrote today’s Back Story. You can reach the team at [email protected]
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