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2021 Documents in Review: Earliest Known 2001 Afghanistan Strategy Paper

December 21, 2021

The National Security Archive is celebrating the end of 2021 by looking back to our most impactful postings of the year and highlighting the documents behind them. This week, we’re revisiting former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s declassified October 30, 2001, memo to Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Doug Feith. Entitled “Strategy”, the memo, which concerned the U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan, was  featured in the Archive’s August 19, 2021, posting, Afghanistan 20/20: The 20-Year War in 20 Documents

The posting addresses the problems that bedeviled the American war in Afghanistan from its inception. Declassified documents made available through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and featured in the publication detail how the flawed American military strategy in Afghanistan was only further compounded by poor policy decisions. The posting includes declassified documents on: the early lack of “visibility into who the bad guys are;” Pakistan’s double game of taking U.S. aid while providing a sanctuary to the Taliban; “mission creep” as a counterterror effort against al-Qaeda morphed into a nation-building war against the Taliban; loss of attention to Afghanistan as the Bush administration invaded and occupied Iraq; endemic corruption; fake statistics and gassy metrics not only by the military but also the State Department, US AID, and their many contractors; mismatch between Afghan realities and American designs for a new centralized government and modernized army; and more. The information in the documents often contradicts public statements made by Department of Defense and White House officials over the twenty year conflict. 

Today’s document is an October 30, 2001, ‘snowflake’ memo authored by Rumsfeld and sent to his top policy aide, Doug Feith, detailing the first phase of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. The copy includes Rumsfeld’s personal handwritten edits, with a note to Feith that “The U.S. should not commit to any post-Taliban military involvement since the U.S. will be heavily engaged in the anti-terrorism effort worldwide.” The entirety of Rumsfeld’s ‘snowflake’ memos were released to the Archive following litigation with the Department of Defense with pro bono representation from Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, and are available to researchers through the Digital National Security Archive.

Happy holidays to all of our readers! 

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