The Afghanistan Papers


Starting today, the Washington Post is running a series of articles on the aims and conduct of the conflict in Afghanistan.

It will come as a surprise to no one that the war was a muddled, aimless, expensive and bloody mess. What may come as a bit more of a revelation is how the US military and government worked to “polish the turd”: to misrepresent, embroider, creatively omit, or just lie that the war was being won, somehow… not that this was being done, but how extensively and thoroughly, under two administrations.

The Post obtained these documents through FOI requests and a three year legal battle involving two lawsuits. No purloined photocopies as with the Pentagon Papers, and no hand-wringing over whether to publish them, so no Tom Hanks movie but these are important documents.

About brtrain
This blog is mostly devoted to posts, work and resources on "serious" conflict simulation games.

3 Responses to The Afghanistan Papers

  1. Trevor says:

    Hi Brian. I recently finished reading through the Wahington Post’s series of articles summarizing the Afghanistan Papers. I have a couple of questions for you.

    1. If you knew then what you know now after having read the articles, how would that knowledge have affected your design of ADP? Is this a modelable COIN conflict in the Galula/Petraeus sense, or something else?

    2. Have you, or other designers you know, considered designing a game within a COIN or “nation building” context, but with a greater focus on government dysfunction and corruption (I’m thinking of Kabul here, not Washington).

    3. I know you’re a conflict simulations guy, but do you know of any games, either already released or in the pipeline, that model the kind of corruption that the Washington Post describes, but outside of conflict zones, like with Angola and the dos Santos family?


    • brtrain says:

      Hi Trevor, thanks for your excellent questions.

      I think you will agree that A Distant Plain is a very high-level, broad-strokes kind of game, and any number of flubs, intelligence failures, malfeasance, wasted money and missed opportunities are worked into the give and take of the game’s mechanics and how the players play the game.
      I dont’ think I would have changed much, if anything, in the game’s design; these documents seem just to underline the broad aspects of the situation that we tried to model. Volko’s and my research and sources consulted are summarized in the reading list in the back of the playbook. My greatest concern might be how much we might have overemphasized or underemphasized something, based on the information available to us at the time, but I don’t think there is anything we completely missed.
      The game’s general emphasis is population-centric COIN as Galula and other writers have idealized it; or at least that is its desire. Whether it shows that it would always work, or whether the Coalition ever properly applied it, we will not say.

      Government dysfunction, corruption, and games about these things: I have tried to work this into any number of my games, but never made one that was primarily about corruption. There are some organized crime games that could model something like that. Rex Brynen’s AFTERSHOCK touches on the problem more directly, it might interest you.

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