Hear it from the US Defence Department or the White House, and the war in Afghanistan is a success story allowing America to cease combat operations there a year early. Listen, however, to Lieutenant-Colonel Daniel Davis, veteran of two tours on the Afghan frontlines, and the 11-year conflict is a failure bordering a disaster that those in power have deliberately concealed from Congress and the American people.
For the past month, Lt-Col Davis has been conducting an unusual one-man whistleblowing campaign, complete with two reports – one classified – to his superiors at the Pentagon and private briefings for lawmakers.
Now he has gone public, first in an article for a respected independent journal on military affairs, and then yesterday in an interview with The New York Times. It comes barely a week after Leon Panetta, the Defence Secretary, revealed plans for the last US combat troops to be out of Afghanistan by late 2013, compared with President Barack Obama's previous target of 2014.
"I'm going to get nuked," the 48-year-old officer told the newspaper, speaking of the reaction he expects to the accusations he is levelling at the Pentagon high command, and luminaries like General David Petraeus, who oversaw Mr Obama's troop surge in Afghanistan.
Lt-Col Davis likens himself to a latterday equivalent of James Stewart in Mr Smith Goes to Washington, the 1939 film about a senatorial innocent risking his career and reputation to take on a corrupt governing establishment.
In reality, he has a track record of dissent that goes back some years. But his current views stem from his experience in Afghanistan, where he travelled 9,000 miles across eight provinces last year, speaking with 250 soldiers across the ranks, and many Afghan security officials and civilians, before returning home in October last year. His judgement is that official reports of progress in the war are wildly overblown. The Taliban's strength, he contends, is undiminished, while the Afghan security forces have in many cases made their own deals with the rebels. "You can spin all kinds of stuff, but you can't spin the fact that more men are getting blown up every year."
Not surprisingly, the Pentagon rejects the charges, insisting it is a "values-based organisation", committed to "the integrity of what we publish and what we say". But, thus far at least, it has not moved to punish Lt-Col Davis – perhaps because he has drawn a degree of support on Capitol Hill.
In fact this is not the first time official public assessments of the war have been challenged. In December 2010, two classified intelligence reports warned that success was unlikely without a crackdown by Pakistan on insurgents in that country. And only last week, Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, spoke of the "disparity" between public pronouncements on the war, and the "sobering" conclusions of a National Intelligence Estimate – representing the combined wisdom of the US intelligence agencies – drawn up a month before.Reuse content