The Pentagon is rejecting accusations that military leadership "incentivized lying" to portray a more optimistic picture of U.S. efforts in the nearly two-decade-long war in Afghanistan.
"The idea that there was some ... effort to hide the truth or the reality on the ground just doesn't hold water," chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman told reporters Thursday.
"This idea that there were somehow misstatements or lies, I don't think that really gels," he added.
Hoffman's response took aim at comments by U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko, who testified Wednesday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
"We have incentivized lying to Congress," Sopko told lawmakers. "The whole incentive is to show success and to ignore the failure. And when there's too much failure, classify it or don't report it."
Lawmakers created the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, in 2008 and it has been producing quarterly reports on U.S. reconstruction efforts ever since.
Many of the reports have been critical of U.S. efforts, criticism that gained momentum following the release late last year of the Afghanistan Papers — a collection of previously undisclosed SIGAR interviews and notes obtained by The Washington Post.
Hoffman said Thursday that much of the material Sopko cited had been shared willingly, with the understanding it would be shared with Congress.
He also made no apology for how defense officials shared information with the public outside the SIGAR process.
"We have people who are working incredibly hard on incredibly difficult projects, and when they're asked to take on a difficult task, they look for ways to make it happen," he said. "If our people are being too forward leaning and trying to be optimistic about what we think we can accomplish, and to be honest and open with the Congress, we'll continue to do that."