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Pretty amazing piece out of Rolling Stone The Afghanistan Report the Pentagon Doesn't Want You to Read yesterday. The article is based on a previously unpublished report by Lt. Colonel Daniel Davis, a 17 year Army veteran recently returned from a tour in Afghanistan. In simple terms the report's assessment is bleak.

That assessment is essentially that the war has been a disaster and the military's top brass has not leveled with the American public about just how badly it’s been going.

There are two parts to the Rolling Stone piece - first there is of course the article by Michael Hastings (linked above), but secondly there is also a link to the complete text of the 84 page report by Davis in PDF form (Link HERE)

I have spent the morning going through the report and while much of it is not necessarily new or news, the thorough and detailed explanation of what is going on inside the military is well worth the read. As Hastings himself writes:

It is, in my estimation, one of the most significant documents published by an active-duty officer in the past ten years.
Earlier this week there was also a NYT piece on Davis, but it did not include the link to the whole report.
Colonel Davis says his experience has caused him to doubt reports of progress in the war from numerous military leaders, including David H. Petraeus, who commanded the troops in Afghanistan before becoming the director of the Central Intelligence Agency in June.

Last March, for example, Mr. Petraeus, then an Army general, testified before the Senate that the Taliban’s momentum had been “arrested in much of the country” and that progress was “significant,” though fragile, and “on the right azimuth” to allow Afghan forces to take the lead in combat by the end of 2014.

Colonel Davis fiercely disputes such assertions and says few of the troops believe them. At the same time, he is acutely aware of the chasm in stature that separates him from those he is criticizing, and he has no illusions about the impact his public stance may have on his career.

While both the NYT and Rolling Stone articles go over the key ideas in Davis's report to really understand what he is saying, and saying very clearly and eloquently, there is no better place to go than the full 84 page report. Below are a few extracts (I hope I am not breaking copyright laws as I doubt Rolling Stone has the exclusive copyright on the report - but if others feel differently I will delete the extended quotes).

From the introduction:

Senior ranking US military leaders have so distorted the truth when communicating with the US Congress and American people in regards to conditions on the ground in Afghanistan that the truth has become unrecognizable. This deception has damaged America’s credibility among both our allies and enemies, severely limiting our ability to reach a political solution to the war in Afghanistan. It has likely cost American taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars Congress might not otherwise have appropriated had it known the truth, and our senior leaders’ behavior has almost certainly extended the duration of this war. The single greatest penalty our Nation has suffered, however, has been that 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 this deception.
From the field:
As part of a visit I made to the men of 1st Squadron, 32nd Cavalry (1-32 CAV) in January 2011, I accompanied one of their patrols to the northern-most check point American forces go in Kunar Province, "Check Point Delta." There was an ANP station there which had reported being attacked by the Taliban two and a half hours prior to our arrival. Through the interpreter I asked the police captain (see photo below) where the attack had originated, and he pointed to the side of a near-by mountain. "What are your normal procedures in situations like these? Do you form up a patrol and go after them? Do you periodically send harassing patrols after them? What do you do?" As the interpreter conveyed my questions, the captain's head wheeled around abruptly to look at the interpreter and then shot a look back to me with an incredulous look on his face and literally laughed in my face, and said, "No! We don't go after them; that would be dangerous!"
They told me their Soldiers could perform brilliantly and heroically, win every engagement against the Taliban, but at the end of their year have made no difference. Instead, what they proposed to do was close down three bases in the valley, while holding onto the one at the mouth of the valley in order to deny giving the Taliban a free pass to other locations in Afghanistan. The only concern they had, I was told, concerned the ANSF: would they be able to hold if we left? "Heck no," one officer told me. "We really don't know what they'll do, but you and I both know they won't be able to handle that mission any time soon."

Even with that problem, it made sense from a tactical perspective. But instead of just telling the truth and defending it on the actual merits, ISAF applied spin to the story. In a Washington Post story that ran in February 2011, the official spokesman for ISAF was quoted as saying of the Pech shutdown, "Afghan security forces are able to take responsibility of the Pech Valley." NATO spokesman German Brigadier General Josef Blotz explained that in fact "this is testimony to our confidence" in the ANSF's ability to handle the job. A battalion executive officer of one of the ANSF units in that area, however, had a rather different view.

"According to my experience in the military and knowledge of the area, it's absolutely impractical for the Afghan National Army to protect the area without the Americans," a Major Turab, a former second-in-command of an Afghan battalion in the valley told the New York Times. "It will be a suicide mission." The misgivings of the Afghan soldier was not considered and the three bases were shut down or handed to the ANSF.

Several months later the Afghan forces in fact proved incapable of providing security against the insurgents in the Pech - just as Afghan Major Turab had predicted – and US officials made a decision to send American forces right back into the Pech Valley. But instead of simply admitting we'd made a mistake in pulling US forces out the first time, a 12 August 2011 Associated Press article reported, "The US military downplayed the decision to station troops again in Pech. The coalition, along with the Afghan National Army, always maintained a presence in the region, said Lt. Col. Chad Carroll, a spokesman for the coalitions ' eastern command. 'It’s just a matter of where they laid their heads at night.” That, of course, was blatantly untrue. We sent the US troops back in because the Afghan forces were completely incapable of handling the job without US presence. We seem significantly challenged to tell the truth in almost any situation.

The failings of the media:
A Pentagon media outreach program – ostensibly to “educate” the public – only uses spokesmen who are willing to speak the bullet points provided by the Secretary of Defense, and if those spokesmen don’t act as “team players” and say what the Pentagon wants, they are dropped. For their part, the networks only want men and women to speak as experts if they have that top-level access. All of this begs the question: what sort of objectivity and honest analysis did the American public get from watching the major media outlets during this period?

And equally as troubling: with the small number of excerpts provided by the DoDIG’s final report I cited above – all of which reveal questionable practices and clearly indicate the Pentagon’s senior leaders were unapologetically attempting to get their message (and only their message) spread on the news – the Pentagon’s watchdog investigative arm finds the program “complied with regulations and directives.” Meaning, we can be sure that such practices will continue without interruption.

Thus, the American people can expect that in future situations where military expert opinion is desired by major news media outlets, the main group of spokesmen who the networks will hire are those with access to top defense officials – and the Pentagon is only going to give access to those willing to share as their “opinions” the bullet points given them by the Department of Defense.

Again I encourage those interested in Afghanistan, military behavior, or politics in general to read through the full report. It is very readable. (link HERE)
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