Pentagon Misleads American Public on the Afghan War

Claims of situation on the ground are exaggerated, or simply false

17 years into the war in Afghanistan, the Pentagon has gone through several periods of trying to sell the American public on the idea that the war isn’t a disastrous failure. This is increasingly difficult, because the war is going really badly.

But lying works sometimes, and the Pentagon has made that standard operating procedure in Afghanistan. The Pentagon estimates on the war are often exaggerated, and many times simply fabricated outright.

The Pentagon estimates that the Taliban controls or contests 44% of the country. Analysts say the real figure is about 61%. Many districts the US does not consider “contested” have the Afghan government controlling the capital and little else.

US figures show Afghanistan having 314,000 troops, and the Taliban having about 25,000. Afghan officials say the Taliban is actually more like 77,000, while the estimate of Afghan forces ignores that about a third of them are “ghost” soldiers who exist only on paper.

In individual incidents, the Pentagon reports tend to be wildly inaccurate as well, as with the Taliban’s brief capture of the city of Ghazni. The Pentagon declared this a “failed” Taliban push the day it happened, and downplayed it as minimal. Fighting raged for most of the week, with the Pentagon never admitting just what a big fight it was.

All of these statements are part of a broad effort to paint the Afghan War as at least somewhat less dire than it actually is. It is rare for them to be called on such deception, though if history is any indicated, the latest report will not change the Pentagon’s strategy.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is senior editor of