God help this country when someone sits in this chair who doesn't know the military as well as I do.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower
In late December, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta assured Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA) that the United States was "making undeniable progress" in its war in Afghanistan and that a congressionally mandated, independent assessment of the war was "not necessary." However, recent media reports of internal Department of Defense and Intelligence Community assessments of the war contradict, again, claims of progress and illustrate instead that the war is stalemated with US policies over the last several years weakening the Karzai government and alienating the Afghan population, while strengthening the Afghan insurgency and ruining the US relationship with nuclear armed Pakistan. Independent studies of the conflict by non-government and international organizations corroborate these reports and assessments.
Today, the New York Times reports that an active duty Army officer, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel L. Davis, has submitted a classified report to members of Congress that documents the failings of US policy in Afghanistan. More importantly, LTC Davis attests that senior leaders of the Department of Defense, both uniformed and civilian, have intentionally and consistently misled the American people and Congress on the conduct and progress of the Afghan War. The 58-page classified report he prepared, briefed and submitted to senators, representatives and cleared staff members over the last few weeks utilizes nearly 50 historical and current classified sources and draws from 250 interviews he conducted with soldiers throughout Afghanistan during his most recent year-long combat deployment.
In addition to the classified report, LTC Davis has written an 86-page unclassified version, as well as an article, published today by the Armed Forces Journal. These reports depict a near institutionalizing of dishonesty and deception by senior DOD leadership towards the American public and Congress. LTC Davis documents, as well, examples from the Iraq war and major weapons procurement programs to illustrate the persistent duplicity of the Pentagon's senior ranks. Victory narratives, career ambitions and institutional protection fuel these deceits. Deceits that have only delivered the loss of thousands of lives, the waste of hundreds of billions of dollars and the failure to achieve American policy objectives.
LTC Davis has submitted his reports to the Department of the Army, his chain of command and the Department of Defense Inspector General. Hard copies of the classified reports are available for viewing by appropriately cleared members and staff of Congress. However, DOD has not publicly released the unclassified version, even with it being verified as not containing classified information. This is in spite of LTC Davis having provided the report for review to the Defense Department over two weeks ago (Defense Department regulations require only a 10 business day review). I am not surprised DOD is slow with its approval; his allegations are harsh and damning, although accurate and honest.
Danny Davis is a friend of mine; we have known each other since the fall of 2009. Bonding over coffees and lunches as rightful skeptics of the escalation of the Afghan war, we are now observing our worst concerns being realized. At a cost of over 11,000 killed and wounded Americans, the surge in Afghanistan is now being wound down without the achievement of it core objectives.* However, accompanying such a failure, are triumphant claims of success and accomplishment from American generals and their civilian counterparts. For those that comprehend the true consequences of this war: the cold, waxen dead; the mutilated flesh and shattered bone; the fatherless children so very young and the new widows so alone and so heartbroken; such specious and unfounded claims of progress without fact in this war are reckless, dishonorable and injurious.
Over the last several months, at great risk to his career and personal life, LTC Davis has documented the deliberate misleading of the American people and Congress by the leaders of the Department of Defense.** He has done his nation and the United States Army a tremendous service. Thus far the Army has taken no punitive action again LTC Davis, however, I have no doubt his character and motivations will ultimately be attacked and disparaged. I suspect elements of DOD leadership and their supporters will seek to discredit him and persecute him. I am afraid he will face significant, but spurious, investigations and prosecutions for his truth telling actions, such as Justice Department lawyer Thomas Tamm or National Security Agency employee Thomas Drake had to suffer, or that State Department officer Peter Van Buren is currently enduring.
Over 5,500 Americans were killed or wounded in Afghanistan in 2011. Tens of thousands who have come home will soldier a lifetime with the unseen scars of post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury. Our service members find themselves held to account on a callous and unsympathetic battlefield in a schizophrenic and absurd war. They do what is expected of them and hold themselves responsible to those who depend on them.
In contrast, for those in Washington charged with the decisions of war and peace, many of the participants seem to alternate between Pollyannas, chickenhawks and those who have lost sight of the difference between respect for and deference to the military. Any accounting for last year's 5,500 killed and wounded, if the discussants are even aware of the toll, is only a mathematical exercise, and an abstract one at that.
We expect our service members in Afghanistan to do the hard, brutal and savage fighting our policies ask of them without question. They do. Their expectation of those of us in Washington, those of us in our heated offices, wearing ties and high heels, who wake each day safe with our families, is that we ask hard questions, examine the reality of the conflict and not accept assertions of success without evidence.
The assumptions underlying the escalation of the Afghan war were incorrect. The Afghan surge, viewed by policy makers and some in the military as some form of social experiment to validate personal and institutional legacies and theories, rather than achieve US objectives worthy of bodily sacrifice, is failing. LTC Davis has demonstrated the courage to expose the deceptions that perpetuate this war, its failings and its deaths. It is now up to the American people and its Congress to hold those who were not just wrong, but mendacious, to account.
*To be clear, however, continuation of the current war policy would simply be madness. Secretary Panetta's recent announcement to end US combat operations in 2013 is a wise decision (wiser if it had been made in 2009); particularly if this policy shift is coupled with a transition of the role of the US from belligerent in the conflict to mediator of an inclusive political process to settle the three decade plus Afghan war.