Donald Rumsfeld's Legacy: America's 'Forever War' : Consider This from NPR The former Secretary of Defense was a chief architect of the conflict that came to be known as America's 'forever war.' After his death this week at age 88, that conflict has now officially outlived him.

NPR's Steve Inskeep reports on one group of people still living with the consequences: thousands of Afghans who worked with the U.S. military over the past 20 years. More from that story, which aired on Morning Edition, is here.

Additional reporting in this episode from NPR's Greg Myre.

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What Donald Rumsfeld Left Behind

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In a live interview broadcast on NPR in November of 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was completely clear. Any conflict in Iraq would be over quickly.


DONALD RUMSFELD: The Gulf War in the 1990s lasted five days on the ground. I can't tell you if a - the use of force in Iraq today would last five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn't going to last any longer than that.

CORNISH: Rumsfeld said the U.S. military had vastly more powerful weapons than it did in the Gulf War. And he assured listeners that the U.S., which had been operating in Afghanistan for more than a year, would be able to justify the use of military force in Iraq as well.


RUMSFELD: The case is being made, and it's being made persuasively. And in the event force is used, there's no doubt in my mind that the evidence as to why it had to be used will be very real.

CORNISH: Four years after that interview, with no weapons of mass destruction found, Donald Rumsfeld resigned. And now with his death this week at the age of 88, the conflict that came to be known as the forever war has officially outlived him.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I'm now the fourth United States president to preside over American troop presence in Afghanistan - two Republicans, two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility onto a fifth.

CORNISH: That was President Biden back in April when he outlined a plan to bring U.S. troops home from Afghanistan before September 11 of this year. In fact, U.S. forces are expected to be fully withdrawn by mid-July.


BIDEN: And it's time to end the forever war.

CORNISH: CONSIDER THIS - one of the architects of America's forever war died before it ended, but millions of people are still living with its consequences.


CORNISH: From NPR, I'm Audie Cornish. It's Thursday, July 1.

It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. As secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld was a relentless proponent of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here he is talking about the Afghan war in 2002, just six months after the U.S. invaded.


RUMSFELD: And how did it work out all in all? Well, not bad. The Taliban are gone. The al-Qaida are on the run. It was done with a - the rather, I would say, effective use of Afghan forces.

CORNISH: But many of his upbeat assessments turned out not to be true. The Iraq War was based on the argument Saddam Hussein was building weapons of mass destruction, which he wasn't. And as the fighting intensified a couple of years later, a soldier asked Rumsfeld why the Pentagon hadn't provided more armored vehicles to protect against roadside bombs.


RUMSFELD: As you know, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time. Since the Iraq conflict began...

CORNISH: The U.S. war effort suffered a damaging blow as revelations emerged that U.S. military members were abusing and torturing Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison. Years later in his memoir, Rumsfeld blamed, quote, "a small group of prison guards who ran amuck." As details of the scandal emerged, Rumsfeld seemed to strike a cavalier tone about some of the abuses. For instance, a memo from that time, released years later, detailed how interrogators forced prisoners to stand for four hours at a time. Rumsfeld added a handwritten note at the bottom that said, quote, "I stand for eight to 10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to four hours?"

In a memoir he published in 2011, he said he had no real regrets about either war, though they lasted far longer and achieved much less and cost much more than Rumsfeld or others had predicted. In interviews promoting the book, he claimed his critics failed to understand that these were, quote, "generational conflicts." As he spoke to supporters, he argued the wars had protected the U.S. homeland.


RUMSFELD: You know the effort, and, I would submit, you know the result. There has not been a successful attack on the United States of America in close to a decade.


RUMSFELD: And that didn't just happen. That is because of Guantanamo. It's because of indefinite detention. It's because of military commissions. It's because of the coalition and putting pressure on terrorists all across the globe to make everything they do harder - harder to recruit...


CORNISH: More than 7,000 Americans have been killed in the post-9/11 wars. Some estimates put the number of civilian casualties in those conflicts at more than 300,000, with the number of refugees and displaced persons in the tens of millions.

There are a few thousand troops left in Iraq now. The timing on how much longer they'll be there is unclear. As for Afghanistan, after nearly 20 years, the U.S. relationship with that country will soon be largely diplomatic and financial. All but around 650 troops will be coming home, and those who remain will protect the U.S. embassy and the airport.

What happens to people for whom the war cannot end because they have nowhere to go? We're talking about tens of thousands of Afghan citizens who worked alongside U.S. military troops over the past 20 years as interpreters, advisers, drivers and cooks. Well, the U.S. has just begun a process to relocate them. NPR's Steve Inskeep explains why.


STEVE INSKEEP: We reached a man in Afghanistan named Khan. For his safety, we're not using his full name and also disguising his voice.

Did you watch President Biden's speech when he said that United States forces should be out of Afghanistan before September 11 of this year?

KHAN: Yes, me and...

RAMTIN ARABLOUEI: "Yes, me and my family and my 3-year-old son."

INSKEEP: That Afghan family was watching for some mention of people like them. Khan worked for the United States as a Defense Department contractor.

KHAN: We thought that Joe Biden...

ARABLOUEI: "We thought that Joe Biden would mention the Afghan interpreters and all the others who supported the U.S. mission here. But, unfortunately, he didn't mention that he would save them."

INSKEEP: Many Afghans served the United States over the past 20 years, and now many feel their past service leaves them marked for death. Another former U.S. employee asked us to withhold his name for safety.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Every day now, you can see an increase in attacks. You can see an increase of the Taliban's presence in major cities. What am I going to do after September? You know, what's going to happen in November? Am I going to be even alive by December?

INSKEEP: He's been receiving calls.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: They claim they are the Taliban. They keep telling me that they know me and they told me on the phone that, look, we know where you live.

INSKEEP: NPR correspondents recorded many U.S. military interpreters at work over the past 20 years. In 2010, a U.S. Marine apologized through his Afghan interpreter to the family of a man the U.S. mistakenly killed.


BRIAN CHRISTMAS: I'm here today to specifically address the shooting last night...

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: (Non-English language spoken).

CHRISTMAS: ...And pay respects for something that was a misfortune. It should not have happened.

UNIDENTIFIED INTERPRETER: (Non-English language spoken).

INSKEEP: By serving the U.S., the Afghans were serving their country, supporting allies of their government. They were also risking their lives because the Taliban regarded them as enemies. Many took that risk when they were very young, though many Afghans do not track birthdays.

WESTON AMAYA: None of my interpreters knew how old they were. And I suspect many of them were probably 16 or 17 when they started working as an interpreter for the U.S.

INSKEEP: Major Weston Amaya is retired from the U.S. Army and is living now in Hawaii. He's been trying for years to bring out an interpreter who served with him.

AMAYA: I'll tell you a story about, I think, my second trip out there.

INSKEEP: Amaya was working with Afghan troops. Mortar fire and machine gunfire began raining down on their position in the mountains.

AMAYA: Through my interpreter, I was talking with them to see what intel reports they had. We had a shared map that we were circling locations with likely firing points from the fire that we were receiving.

INSKEEP: Together, the Americans and Afghans identified a cave where the enemy was hiding and then ran across 300 meters of ground to direct Afghan artillery to fire back.

AMAYA: After about five minutes of firing, the position went quiet.

INSKEEP: The whole time you're telling this story, I'm thinking it's all about communication. You're having to communicate while under fire in different languages.

AMAYA: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: That interpreter is the most crucial person.

AMAYA: Linchpin.

INSKEEP: How'd he do?

AMAYA: He was completely fearless. He and I were having to move from position to position to get the reports to get the intel. So we were moving under fire the entire time.

INSKEEP: That was 2011. In 2013, Major Amaya began supporting his interpreter's visa application to come to the United States. After five years of waiting, he was rejected. A letter from the U.S. Embassy said he was terminated from his job at one point and did not perform valuable service to the United States. As the U.S. withdraws, Major Amaya has begun trying again to help him out of the country.

What have you heard from your interpreter lately?

AMAYA: I've actually got some emails here. (Reading) Dear sir, as you are aware, the U.S. army is withdrawing from Afghanistan. And the security is getting worse day by day. And the Taliban is coming back. They will target and kill me. So please, sir, rescue me from the enemy. Please do something to save me.


CORNISH: That was an excerpt of a story from Steve Inskeep and our colleagues at NPR's Morning Edition. And you can find more from their work in our episode notes.

Now, that report first aired last month. And days after it did, White House officials told NPR that the U.S. plans to relocate tens of thousands of Afghan citizens who worked for the U.S. government before troops exit the country in the next few months. Most of the Afghans are applicants for special immigration visas, or SIVs, and are translators and interpreters. Their family members will also be relocated. The plan is to move them to a third country for processing as the security situation in Afghanistan continues to decline.



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