WASHINGTON - On his second yearlong deployment to Afghanistan, Lt. Col. Daniel Davis traveled 9,000 miles, patrolled with U.S. troops in eight provinces and returned last October with a fervent conviction that the war was going disastrously and that senior military leaders had not leveled with the U.S. 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.
And then, late last month, Davis, 48, began an unusual one-man campaign of military truth-telling. He wrote two reports, one for the public 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?" 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."
Davis says his experience has caused him to doubt reports of progress in the war from numerous military leaders, including David Petraeus, who commanded the troops in Afghanistan before becoming CIA director in June.
Last March, for example, Petraeus, then an Army general, testified before the Senate that the Taliban's momentum had been "arrested in much of the country."
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 effect his public stance may have on his career.
But his bosses' initial response has been restrained. They told him that while they disagreed with him, he would not face "adverse action," he said.
Col. James Hutton, chief of media relations for the Army, declined to comment specifically about Davis, but he rejected the idea that military leaders had been anything but truthful about Afghanistan. "The integrity of what ... we say is something we take very seriously," he said.