By SCOTT SHANE
WASHINGTON — On his second yearlong deployment to Afghanistan, Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis traveled 9,000 miles, patrolled with American troops in eight provinces and returned in October of last year with a fervent conviction that the war was going disastrously and that senior military leaders had not leveled with the American public.
Since enlisting in the Army in 1985, he said, he had repeatedly seen top commanders falsely dress up a dismal situation. But this time, he would not let it rest. So he consulted with his pastor at McLean Bible Church in Virginia, where he sings in the choir. He watched his favorite movie, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” one more time, drawing inspiration from Jimmy Stewart’s role as the extraordinary ordinary man who takes on a corrupt establishment.
And 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.”
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.