Harsh Criticism Over Claims of Success in Afghanistan

Started by bayonetbrant, February 06, 2012, 01:54:22 PM

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QuoteI spent last year in Afghanistan, visiting and talking with U.S. troops and their Afghan partners. My duties with the Army's Rapid Equipping Force took me into every significant area where our soldiers engage the enemy. Over the course of 12 months, I covered more than 9,000 miles and talked, traveled and patrolled with troops in Kandahar, Kunar, Ghazni, Khost, Paktika, Kunduz, Balkh, Nangarhar and other provinces.

What I saw bore no resemblance to rosy official statements by U.S. military leaders about conditions on the ground.

Entering this deployment, I was sincerely hoping to learn that the claims were true: that conditions in Afghanistan were improving, that the local government and military were progressing toward self-sufficiency. I did not need to witness dramatic improvements to be reassured, but merely hoped to see evidence of positive trends, to see companies or battalions produce even minimal but sustainable progress.

Instead, I witnessed the absence of success on virtually every level.

My arrival in country in late 2010 marked the start of my fourth combat deployment, and my second in Afghanistan. A Regular Army officer in the Armor Branch, I served in Operation Desert Storm, in Afghanistan in 2005-06 and in Iraq in 2008-09. In the middle of my career, I spent eight years in the U.S. Army Reserve and held a number of civilian jobs — among them, legislative correspondent for defense and foreign affairs for Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.

As a representative for the Rapid Equipping Force, I set out to talk to our troops about their needs and their circumstances. Along the way, I conducted mounted and dismounted combat patrols, spending time with conventional and Special Forces troops. I interviewed or had conversations with more than 250 soldiers in the field, from the lowest-ranking 19-year-old private to division commanders and staff members at every echelon. I spoke at length with Afghan security officials, Afghan civilians and a few village elders.

I saw the incredible difficulties any military force would have to pacify even a single area of any of those provinces; I heard many stories of how insurgents controlled virtually every piece of land beyond eyeshot of a U.S. or International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) base.

I saw little to no evidence the local governments were able to provide for the basic needs of the people. Some of the Afghan civilians I talked with said the people didn't want to be connected to a predatory or incapable local government.

From time to time, I observed Afghan Security forces collude with the insurgency.


QuoteNow, I've not done a lot of research on this story, but at first blush, I wonder if there's not a disconnect in the evaluation metrics being used.

When senior leaders stand before Congress and say "things are improving" they are very likely telling the truth, in that what is "improving" are those metrics being tracked by their command. The question now is "what" is it that's improving?

When LTC Davis walks around the country and concludes that things are not improving, what is the evaluation metric he's using?

If they're both using the same metrics, and the same ways of measuring those metrics, and coming to different conclusions, then we have evidence of a serious problem.

If they're measuring completely different things - for instance, if no one in uniform is tracking "incidents of Taliban violence within visual range of US bases" - then you've got a different problem. Potentially just as serious, but still very different.

Either way, it sounds like there needs to be some investigation and introspection, rather than the expected career-nuking smear campaign that we all know is coming.



QuoteAnd then, late last month, Colonel Davis, 48, began an unusual one-man campaign of military truth-telling. He wrote two reports, one unclassified and the other classified, summarizing his observations on the candor gap with respect to Afghanistan. He briefed four members of Congress and a dozen staff members, spoke with a reporter for The New York Times, sent his reports to the Defense Department's inspector general — and only then informed his chain of command that he had done so.

"How many more men must die in support of a mission that is not succeeding?" Colonel Davis asks in an article summarizing his views titled "Truth, Lies and Afghanistan: How Military Leaders Have Let Us Down." It was published online Sunday in The Armed Forces Journal, the nation's oldest independent periodical on military affairs. "No one expects our leaders to always have a successful plan," he says in the article. "But we do expect — and the men who do the living, fighting and dying deserve — to have our leaders tell us the truth about what's going on."


QuoteThe question of truth and lies in wartime is an old and incendiary one. It is, after all, the ancient Greek dramatist Aeschylus who declared that in war, the first casualty is truth. In recent years, the 1997 book "Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies That Led to Vietnam," by H.R. McMaster, now an Army general, has been required reading for American officers, many of whom have vowed never to allow wishful thinking or political agendas to distort military decisions.
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