In late December, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta assured Congress that the United States was "making undeniable progress" in its war in Afghanistan. Current CIA Director and former American commander in Afghanistan Gen. David Petraeus has testified to “significant progress” in Afghanistan, as has every American commanding general since 2001.

ADVERTISEMENT

Yet recent reports by Lieutenant Colonial Daniel L. Davis, who spent the last year in Afghanistan visiting and talking with American troops and their Afghan allies and covering more than 9,000 miles, found that in Afghanistan, the conditions on the ground belied the rosy claims of American military and civilian leaders. Rather than the steady progress in the country, Davis “witnessed the absence of success on virtually every level.” 

The problems are endemic in both countries: a conflict that pre-dates American arrival, a weak central government, an Army that has difficulty fighting without foreign forces, substantial graft and corruption, leaders more interested in retaining power than winning the war and economic instability.

The soldiers and the military officers fighting in the countries understood the reality; their leaders did not.

In Vietnam, when I reported on a declining security situation in the province in which I worked, I was forbidden from sending the analysis to higher levels who explained that “it would only make us look bad.”

Then years later in Afghanistan and Iraq when I tried to take the same approach as John and warn my superiors that sending more foreign troops and foreign money into southern Afghanistan would only fuel the insurgency I was told I was “overly negative.” When I reported that the Pashtuns in southern Afghanistan boycotted the, ultimately stolen, 2009 Afghan elections, I was told that such reports didn’t follow the “official narrative.” When the United States is losing wars, our leadership is loath to admit it. It is part of the can-do optimism that blinds both military and civilians to what is really happening. Reporting bad news to Congress and the American people is simply too hard for most high-level officials.

The original decision to fight in Afghanistan can be justified; the almost decade-long mission to bring a new order to Afghanistan cannot. Heartbreakingly, Davis asks "How many more men must die in support of a mission that is not succeeding and behind an array of more than seven years of optimistic statements." 

His words sadly echoed the refrain of Vietnam War veteran John KerryJohn KerryClimate policies propel a growing dysfunction of Western democracies Kerry calls out countries that need to 'step up' on climate change Those on the front lines of climate change should be empowered to be central to its solution MORE testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:  "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" 

Hoh served with the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq and on U.S. Embassy teams in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Isaacs served with the pacification program in Vietnam.