Today marks the launch in London of a book titled “An Intimate War: An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict, 1978-2012”. The book’s author is Dr. Mike Martin. Until Monday, he was known as Captain Mike Martin. In order to publish the book, however, he resigned from the military when it refused to grant him permission to publish the book, which the military ironically had initially commissioned from Martin.
From the Guardian:
A captain in the Territorial Army has resigned after a dispute with the Ministry of Defence over a book he has written that is critical of the conduct of the campaign in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
The MoD commissioned the book by Dr Mike Martin, but took exception to parts of the account. The dispute has gone on for more than a year.
In a statement, the MoD said it “has a strong record of learning from previous campaigns and encourages its officers to challenge existing norms and conventional wisdom. However, the publication of books and articles by serving military personnel is governed by well-established policy and regulations. When these are breached, the MoD will withhold approval.”
We get more from BBC:
Mr Martin studied Helmand for six years and completed an Army-funded PhD at King’s College in London.
He told the BBC Nato troops did not understand the “complexities” of Afghan tribal conflicts and were “manipulated” by tribal leaders fighting over land and water.
“This meant that we often made the conflict worse, rather than better,” he wrote in the study.
Mr Martin said he was originally told his final thesis could not be published as a book because it made use of secret cables published by Wikileaks and classified materials.
But for now it looks as though his resignation will make it possible for Martin to go ahead with the book launch:
But he denied the book contained any intelligence material that was not in the public domain.
Last week, he was then told by his commanding officer that he was “not authorised to published the book”.
He resigned on Monday and will launch the book in London on Wednesday night.
The MoD said the department had accepted the material in the book did not contravene the Official Secrets Act.
More information on the book and Martin’s research for it is found in the King’s College announcement for a seminar tomorrow:
An Intimate War tells the story of the last thirty-five years of conflict in Helmand Province, Afghanistan as seen through the eyes of the Helmandis. In theWest, this period is often defined through different lenses—the Soviet intervention, the civil war, the Taliban, and the post-2001 nation-building era. Yet, as experienced by local inhabitants, the Helmand conflict is a perennial one, involving the same individuals, families and groups, and driven by the same arguments over land, water and power.
This book—based on both military and research experience in Helmand and 150 interviews in Pushtu—offers a very different view of Helmand from those in the mainstream. It demonstrates how outsiders have most often misunderstood the ongoing struggle in Helmand and how, in doing so, they have exacerbated the conflict, perpetuated it and made it more violent—precisely the opposite of what was intended when their interventions were launched.
Dr. Mike Martin is a Pushtu speaker who spent almost two years in Helmand as a British army officer (covering Operation HERRICKs 9-16). During that time, he pioneered and developed the British military’s Human Terrain and Cultural Capability—a means to understanding the Helmandi population and influencing it. He also worked as an advisor to several British commanders of Task Force Helmand. His previous publications include A Brief History of Helmand, required reading for British commanders and intelligence staff deploying to the province. He holds a doctorate in War Studies from King’s College London.
Well, at least Martin didn’t have to leak his book to Rolling Stone to get it published. Informing the military of its own mistakes and hubris never seems to go well. As we are seeing now with Mike Martin in the UK and saw previously with Daniel Davis in the US, the military takes active steps to block such publications. And then sometimes it even goes so far as retroactively classifying material that is found to be embarrassing. I hope to get a chance to read Martin’s book. From the description, it sounds as though it may well take a similar cultural approach to the analysis of green on blue killing that lead to the retroactive classification of “A Crisis of Trust and Cultural Incompatibility” (pdf).
Is there any higher heroism than disrupting one’s own career in the spreading of truth?
Writing yesterday in the Daily Beast, Lt. Col. Daniel Davis provides a moving tribute to the late Michael Hastings. In the piece, we learn that Hastings didn’t merely help Davis by publishing Davis’ long-form unclassified report detailing how “progress” in Afghanistan as reported by the military has no basis in reality, but Hastings actually provided some of the inspiration for Davis to enter into his process of exposing military lies:
I first met Michael in early May 2011, while I was in Washington on leave from the combat zone in Afghanistan. I agreed to meet him at the behest of a mutual friend, though I was hesitant. Prior to that meeting the only thing I knew about Hastings was that he had authored the Rolling Stone piece that led to the firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Most people I knew in the military believed Hastings to be a raging liberal who hated the military. Yet because our mutual friend held him in such high esteem, I agreed to meet. I am so thankful I did so.
Within 10 minutes of meeting him my opinion had changed dramatically. I found him to be a very rational, honest, and respectful guy. He also showed real interest in and concern for the regular combat troop and was definitely not some “military hater.” Over the course of lunch that day I shared with him my frustration at what I believed to be a significant chasm between what some of our senior military leaders were saying in public and what I knew to be true behind the scenes. Michael told me that didn’t surprise him, because he’d seen it in his own experience over the years and had many soldiers tell him the same thing.
Note what fuels the relationship between Davis and Hastings. Both care deeply about regular combat soldiers and see that high-ranking officers are lying about what is taking place in Afghanistan. It is clear from Davis’ piece that this meeting with Hastings, and the understanding of Hastings’ motivations that the meeting provided, served as inspiration for Davis: Continue reading
As the “fighting season” for the tenth full year of US forces being in Afghanistan comes to a close, the Defense Department has released its most recent report (pdf, required every Friedman Unit by law) on “progress” in the war. Although the military does its best, as always, to couch its report in language describing progress against goals which always must be redefined in order to claim any progress, those who have been paying attention knew from the report prepared early this year by Lt. Col. Daniel Davis that the vaunted surge of troops in Afghanistan, despite being billed as guaranteed to work as well as the Iraq surge, has been a complete failure.
Here are the latest results on enemy initiated attacks, on a monthly basis:
Note that in order to not remind us of how violence escalated in Afghanistan while our troops were present, this figure cuts off the early years of the war. A similar chart, with the early years included (but showing events on a daily basis rather than monthly, so the scale is different) can be seen in this post from early last year. However, by cutting off the early years, the Defense Department allows us to concentrate on the surge and its abject failure. Obama’s surge began with his order in December, 2009, so this graph gives us 2009 as the base on which to compare results for the surge. Despite a small decrease in violence from the peak in 2010, both 2011 and 2012 are worse than 2009, the last pre-surge year.
Daniel Davis explains how the reduction in violence in Iraq was unrelated to the surge or Petraeus’ vaunted COIN strategy. From my February post on the Davis report:
Once we realize the fact that the surge in Afghanistan has not worked, the natural question arises of why it didn’t since the Iraq surge is so widely credited with turning around the violence trend there. After all, both surges have been sold as the model for the new COIN centered around the idea of protecting the population.
The answer here is that we were sold lies about the underlying forces behind the decrease in violence in Iraq. In short, violence decreased for reasons mostly unrelated to the surge and the new COIN approach. From page 57:
“As is well known, the turning point in 2007 Iraq came when the heart of the Sunni insurgency turned against al-Qaeda and joined with US Forces against them, dramatically reducing the violence in Iraq almost overnight. The overriding reason the Sunni insurgency turned towards the United States was because after almost two years of internal conflict between what ought to have been natural allies – al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and the greater Sunni insurgency – a tipping point was reached whereby the Iraqi Sunnis finally and decisively turned against AQI. Had this unnatural split not occurred, by all accounts I have been given on both the Iraqi side and the US military side, “we would still be fighting in Iraq today,” in the words of two officers I know who fought there.”
There simply has been no turning against insurgents in Afghanistan in the same way there was in Iraq. The COIN strategy has been the same in both places, so it is impossible to escape the conclusion that the military’s current version of COIN alone is insufficient to end violence in Afghanistan.
The Petreaus-Allen-Broadwell-Kelley scandal very conveniently will prevent this evidence of failure receiving the attention it deserves. Should Congress decide to take a realistic look at Afghanistan, it’s hard to see how they can conclude anything other than that our presence has accomplished nothing but death and destruction. Getting out now rather than two years from now is the only responsible decision.
Now that most joint operations involving US and Afghan forces have been put on hold, there are major developments in both media discussions of the war and in opinions among prominent Republicans in Washington on how the US should move forward from this point. The change in media language is that there are more overt references to the war being a failure. Perhaps reflecting a realization of this point, both Bill Young (R-FL), who chairs the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee, and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) have called for an accelerated exit from Afghanistan.
In The Guardian, we hear once again from Lt. Col. Daniel Davis, whose earlier report on the failures of the Afghanistan war strategy was largely ignored. Davis’ message has not changed, but with the rapid rise of green on blue deaths and the suspension of most joint US-Afghan operations put into place so fast that NATO allies were caught off guard, Davis’ message now seems more likely to be understood (emphasis added):
Lieutenant colonel Daniel Davis – who caused a political stir in Washington in February by accusing the Pentagon of “lying” about the situation in Afghanistan because his experience during a year-long deployment “bore no resemblance to rosy official statements by US military leaders about conditions on the ground” – said that calling off of joint operations will be damaging because it will reinforce a perception among Afghans that the US is rushing to leave.
Davis said “insider attacks” have eroded trust among Nato troops of their Afghan colleagues. But, he added, confidence between the two militaries has been on the wane for some time because of overly optimistic claims by the US about the state of the war with the Taliban and Barack Obama’s setting of a 2014 date for an end to American combat operations.
“In my personal opinion, we (Isaf) have been responsible for a portion of the destruction of trust between the Afghan forces and Isaf troopers because so often our leaders say things like “everything’s on track”, “we’re on the right azimuth.”
“But when those messages are heard by the Afghan government, the Afghan security forces, and even the Taliban, they see with their own eyes that nothing could be further from the truth. When they hear us saying these things and actually appear to believe them, they either don’t trust us or they don’t put any value in our ability to assess,” Davis said.
“When you’re using the language of success to describe abject failure, you have no credibility in the eyes of those on the ground who know the truth.“
But it’s not just Davis who is spreading the message of failure. Consider this from Time, where Ben Anderson discusses his new book “No Worse Enemy: The Inside Story of the Chaotic Struggle for Afghanistan” (emphasis added again):
What is the book’s bottom line?
Despite the incredible hard work, bravery and suffering of our troops, despite the massive Afghan civilian casualties, despite the hundreds of billions spent, we have not achieved our goals in Afghanistan.
Essentially, we’re supposed to be clearing an area of insurgents and then persuading locals to chose us and our Afghan allies over the Taliban. Most areas where we are based have not been cleared of the Taliban and even if they had been, we’re fighting to introduce a largely unwelcome government.
The Afghan army cannot provide security on its own, the Afghan government is spectacularly corrupt and the police are feared and hated, for good reason.
So even if the military part of the strategy goes perfectly to plan (and it never does) the locals don’t want what we are offering.
It’s a hard pill to swallow, but I’ve been told countless times that locals prefer the Taliban to foreign forces and the Afghan government, particularly the police. I should point out that I’ve spent most of time in Afghanistan in Helmand and Kandahar, where the war has always been fiercest.
There can be no doubt that American troops in Afghanistan have become nothing more than political pawns for the Obama administration. Appearing before the House Armed Services Committee yesterday, General John R. Allen, who commands US forces in Afghanistan, made it clear that there will be no increase in the rate of troop drawdown from Afghanistan before the end of the year — a move that even the New York Times identifies as likely being more political than strategic:
The top allied commander in Afghanistan told Congress on Tuesday that he would not be recommending further American troop reductions until late this year, after the departure of the current “surge” forces and the end of the summer fighting season.
That timetable would defer one of the thorniest military decisions facing President Obama — the pace at which the United States removes its forces from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 — until after the November elections.
If strategic reviews were based on changes in operating conditions (remember the old catchphrase “conditions on the ground”?), then the current situation would rightly call for immediate action. However, since the Obama administration senses that any adjustments in the strategy for Afghanistan now would be a tacit admission that the current strategy has flaws, the craven decision is to delay the review until after the November elections have taken place. It appears that the lives of our troops are a lower priority than winning the election.
That no real progress is being made in terms of reducing violence in Afghanistan was made crystal clear by the valiant truth-telling from Lt. Col. Daniel Davis. In addition, despite attempts to retroactively classify a key report on the ongoing cultural clash between US and Afghan forces, fratricide appears to be on a path of increasing frequency, as well.
In a Defense Department release coinciding with Allen’s testimony, we have more denial of the cultural clash:
Recent incidents have been deplorable, but they will not stand in the way of accomplishing goals in Afghanistan, the International Security Assistance Force commander said here.
Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen also said the incidents do not represent the actions of the vast majority of U.S. military personnel who have served in Afghanistan.
Three incidents have been lumped together, the general said: desecration of corpses, the accidental burning of Qurans and the murder of 16 Afghans in Kandahar province. “It’s important to understand that while tragic, these few incidents do not represent who we are,” Allen said during an interview. “The Afghan people know that, the Afghan government knows that, and more importantly, the Afghan national security forces know who we are.”
Allen emphasized that U.S. and Afghan forces have been working together for years, and many Afghans and Americans have close working relationships. Continue reading
One of the hottest, and most important, stories of the last week has been that broken by Scott Shane in the New York Times, on February 5th, of Army Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis’ stunning report on the unmitigated duplicity and disaster that characterizes the American war in Afghanistan. It painted the story of a man, Davis, committed to his country, to his service and to the truth but internally tortured by the futility and waste he saw in Afghanistan, and the deception of the American public and their Congressional representatives by the Pentagon and White House.
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.
Concurrent with Shane’s NYT article, Davis himself published an essay overview of what he knew and saw in the Armed Forces Journal.
The one thing that was not released with either Shane or Davis’ article was the actual Davis report itself, at least the unclassified version thereof. The unclassified Davis report has now been published, in its entire original form, by Michael Hastings in Rolling Stone in The Afghanistan Report the Pentagon Doesn’t Want You to Read.
The report is every bit as detailed, factually supported and damning as the articles by Shane and Davis portrayed. It is a must, but disturbing, read. If the American people care about economic waste and efficacy and morality of their foreign military projection, both the Obama Administration and the Pentagon will be browbeat with the picture and moment of sunlight Daniel Davis has provided. Jim White has penned an excellent discussion of the details of the Davis report.
My instant point here, however, is how Davis conducted himself in bringing his sunlight, and blowing the whistle, on wrongful US governmental and military conduct. Davis appears to have attempted to carefully marshal his evidence, separated the classified from the unclassified, released only unclassified reportage himself and to the press, taken the classified reportage to appropriate members of Congress and the DOD Inspector General, and notified his chain of command. Davis insured that, while the classified information and facts were protected from inappropriate and reckless release, they could not be buried by leveraging his unclassified press publication. In short, Daniel Davis is the epitome of a true military whistleblower, both in fact, and Continue reading