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Digital National Security Archive (DNSA): The Afghanistan War and the United States, 1998-2017

About this Collection

This timely collection on the 20-year U.S. war in Afghanistan offers a trove of revealing documents focusing on the Bush and Obama years. Largely the product of decades of Freedom of Information Act requests, these records from the State Department, CENTCOM, Defense Intelligence Agency, and other agencies explore the overall experience as well as the problems that bedeviled the American-led occupation, including reconstruction, U.S.-Afghan diplomatic ties, Pakistan’s double-dealing, Taliban-al-Qaeda relations, corruption, and narcotics.

More About this Collection

The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years of American-led occupation, and the Taliban’s return to power, will prompt years of study about the problems that have bedeviled America’s longest war. The Afghanistan War and the United States, 1998-2017 is the National Security Archive’s timely contribution to this debate and will help researchers and pundits answer some of the most important lingering questions. Featuring records primarily from the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations, the collection explores U.S.-Afghan ties, Taliban-al-Qaeda relations, narcotics, reconstruction efforts, diplomatic relations with the Afghan government, Pakistan’s double-dealing, and other key issues.

The Archive’s Afghanistan project team attempted to collect as many relevant documents as possible for this publication, both through examining the websites of relevant agencies and by filing hundreds of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Research targets included the most relevant components within the State Department (including the Secretary’s Office, cable traffic to and from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, and the records of the Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation), the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Department of Defense (DOD), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The result is a collection consisting of 2,261 documents totaling approximately 14,353 pages. While the bulk of the documentation was produced between 2001 and 2011, the collection also encompasses events during both the first Afghan Civil War (1992-1996) and the second Afghan Civil War (1996-2001).

The collection also bookends the Digital National Security Archive’s first Afghanistan collection, Afghanistan: The Making of U.S. Policy, 1973-1990, and represents the culmination of over 35 years of work by the National Security Archive’s Afghanistan project. The project began in 1986 with dozens of classified U.S. documents that were seized by student revolutionaries during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis and later published by the Iranian government. In the decades that followed, members of the Afghanistan project team sent thousands of FOIA requests to help inform U.S. policy towards a country that has been central to some of the 20th and 21st centuries’ most important episodes. While the situation in Afghanistan has changed much over the decades, the challenges facing the Afghan project team have remained consistent: Critical documentation on U.S. policy towards Afghanistan and its central players remains shrouded in secrecy, while U.S. agencies have denied many of the Archive’s FOIA requests for dubious reasons.

Number of Documents by Year

Time Period Number of Documents
1979-1992 22
1993-2000 273
2001-2004 504
2005-2008 503
2009-2012 519
2013-2016 370
2017-2022 70


Research Value of This Collection

The U.S. government misled the American people for nearly two decades – across four presidencies – about the conflict in Afghanistan, America’s longest war. To do so, the government hid inconvenient facts and perennial failures inside confidential records.
The records in this collection shed light on topics long hidden from the public, including but not limited to:

  • U.S.-Afghan diplomatic relations,
  • reconstruction and endemic corruption,
  • the mismatch between Afghan realities and American intentions for a new centralized government and modernized army,
  • Pakistan’s strategy of taking U.S. aid while providing sanctuary to the Taliban,
  • narcotics and counternarcotics efforts,
  • Al-Qaeda-Taliban relations,
  • “mission creep,” as the counterterror effort against al-Qaeda morphed into a nation-building war against the Taliban, and
  • U.S. military counterinsurgency strategy.