Are U.S. military leaders lying about Afghanistan?

by Dana Liebelson

A decorated Army vet levels some devastating accusations at the top brass. And it's time for lawmakers to listen up

POSTED ON JUNE 13, 2012, AT 6:00 PM
Dana Liebelson

Earlier this year, an Army veteranwith four combat deployments under his belt and a sterling professional record came forward with a disturbing accusation: Senior military officials are lying to the American public about conditions on the ground in Afghanistan. 

In the 84-page report, Lt. Col. Daniel Davis questions the effectiveness of U.S. military strategy, and documents ways that the Pentagon expertly manipulates the media to present a falsely optimistic view of the war. 

"We have lost the blood, limbs, and lives of tens of thousands of American service members with little to no gain to our country as a consequence of deception [by military leaders]," Davis writes. 

Given the gravity of Davis' allegations — and the fact that he's hardly the first one to make them — you would think that Congress, President Obama, and Mitt Romney would be on television demanding that heads roll. After all, it wasn't too long ago that our top Afghanistan commander, General Stanley A. McChrystal, was fired because his camp made off-color jokes around Rolling Stone reporter Michael Hastings.

But here, with accusations that top military brass are engaging in outright falsehoods, there is nothing but crickets. Specifically, the congressional committees with jurisdiction over the war in Afghanistan have been maddeningly silent about Davis, failing to hold anything resembling a hearing. This naturally raises the question: When a whistleblower comes forward with credible evidence, why do we still refuse to listen? 

According to Hastings, who calls Davis' report "one of the most significant documents published by an active-duty officer in the past 10 years," the answer comes down to politics.

With billions of dollars being funneled into Afghanistan every month, we can't afford to let this whistleblower slide by the wayside.

"The critical dynamics are such that Republicans basically support continuing war in Afghanistan and the Democrats support Obama" Hastings tells me. "There's no political gain for most people to actually examine Afghanistan policy too closely."

That's troubling, because as Davis points out, there are a lot of rosy reports coming out of Afghanistan that fall apart under closer scrutiny. In his report, Davis provides documented evidence that "the surge" strategy in Iraq was not nearly as successful as military brass claim — leading to similar problems in Afghanistan. He also criticizes the supposedly successful training of Afghan forces, and predicts an ominous future once the U.S. pulls out troops.

"[Afghan national security forces] don't ever even leave the confines of the checkpoint. They don't do anything except sit there and try not to get shot and then get their paycheck," Davis told PBS. "So what do we have that's sustainable after we start pulling 20,000 troops out?"

Davis is certainly not the first to criticize the positive reports coming out of Afghanistan. Anthony Cordesman, a top foreign policy analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, writes that "every day seems to widen the gap between the goals the United States is seeking to achieve in Afghanistan and its ability to achieve them."

A bipartisan group of congressmen — who should be lauded for taking up this cause — sent a letter to the House Speaker and House Minority Leader in February, asking for hearings because the 2011 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Afghanistan supports Davis' analysis of the war. This document, which unfortunately hasn't been made available to the public, is the coordinated findings of the entire U.S. intelligence community. (The New Yorker has a great speculative analysis of the document here.) 

Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), one of the letter's signatories who thinks the NIE should be declassified, says that the document casts serious doubt on the official claims of progress. 

Jones told The Hill: "Stop listening to those who keep telling you that training the Afghan soldiers and the Afghans to be policemen is going well… I'm on the Armed Services Committee, and I've been hearing that for 10 years." 

If the Obama Administration is to transition U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by 2013 and successfully transfer authority to local police and private security contractors — both of which are prone to losing billions of taxpayer dollars through waste, fraud, and abuse — it is vital that both Congress and the public have a complete understanding of conditions on the ground. 

As the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has recommended, the NIE should be declassified and the appropriate committees need to hold hearings on Davis' reports without delay. There's been some examination of Davis' report — he was invited to a press conference and panel discussion at the Hill last month—but it's still not enough. With billions of dollars being funneled into Afghanistan every month, we can't afford to let this whistleblower slide by the wayside.

I called the offices of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH), asking why they haven't urged the relevant committees to hold hearings on Davis. Neither responded to my request. 

In April, at the Ridenhour Prizes, where Davis was given an award for truth-telling, he said: "It is no longer acceptable for the truth to be negotiable." 

Unless we start taking action, I'm going to have to come to the conclusion that both Republicans and Democrats quietly disagree.



Dana Liebelson writes for the blog of the Project On Government Oversight. Follow her on Twitter: @dliebelson.