A veteran U.S. army officer has broken ranks, and written a scathing article about the war in Afghanistan.
In so doing, he’s publicly confessed what many American servicemen have been hinting at for years, in private: reports of progress from the Pentagon are little more than window-dressing on a faltering campaign.
Davis, a 27 year vet with four combat deployments under his belt, spent the last year assigned to the Army’s Rapid Equipping Forces, traveling over 9,000 miles to visit every important area where American soldiers engage the enemy. He now contends that there is a growing inconsistency between official statements offered to the American public and hard truth on the ground. As the mission drags on, and hopes of “victory” wane, this credibility gap is becoming chasmal.
LTC Davis reports our Afghan “partners” habitually refuse to fight the Taliban — hedging their bets against a U.S. drawdown designed to exit the majority of forces over the next 24 months. According to his article for the Armed Forces Journal and a story published in concert with the New York Times, local governments are unable to provide basic services and the Taliban insurgency has free rein in territory outside U.S. eyeshot. At times, Davis plainly observed Afghan Security conspiring with the opposition.
According to Davis:
In all of the places I visited, the tactical situation was bad to abysmal. If the events I have described — and many, many more I could mention — had been in the first year of war, or even the third or fourth, one might be willing to believe that Afghanistan was just a hard fight, and we should stick it out. Yet these incidents all happened in the 10th year of war.
Understandably, American troop morale sits at an all time low.
Is any of this so shocking?
Probably not. One of the conditions that define American exceptionalism is our stubborn refusal to warm to defeat or failure. We do not casually quit the field. But according to Davis, current perspective and policy is based on illusion, not reality.
For his part, Davis is on a mission to see that the military brass quits “cherry-picking” the facts they’re feeding us, back home. In his words:
What I saw bore no resemblance to rosy official statements by U.S. military leaders about conditions on the ground…
No one expects our leaders to always have a successful plan. 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.
Let’s face some facts. Despite the unstinting bravery of American troops, stable, constitutional democracy exists beyond the capacity of our dubious partners in the Afghan government. President Karzai serves his nation as the mayor of Kabul — and a rapaciously corrupt one, at that. Yet victory in Afghanistan, as we have come to imagine it, requires a stable, liberal democracy that’s generally pro-American. At present, such victory is off the table.
To expect any Afghan leader — particularly one clever and strong enough to ply together his country’s ragged tapestry of tribal, ethnic and religious identity — to be pro-American AND to share our evolving goals for South Asia is to abandon prudence.
I imagine we can disagree about the strength and purpose of our mission in Afghanistan, how the war should be fought, and when it’s time to pull up stakes. LTC Davis’s report from the field shouldn’t shock us… Afghanistan isn’t a pleasant place to fight a war.
And far be it from me, from the comfort of my desk in Washington, to accuse senior military leaders of lying about what is going on in Afghanistan. More likely, we’re receiving overly optimistic missives from military higher-ups who are famously reluctant to admit an unfavorable outcome. But, Davis raises an important question:
Is American military leadership changing its strategic logic to survive and win on the battlefield…or are they responding to pressures — perhaps leveraged by President Obama and his staff — to outlive opposition inside the Beltway and in next year’s general election?