Rolling Stone releases Colonel Davis’ blockbuster report about Afghanistan – and our senior generals!

Summary:  Rolling Stone has posted the not-yet-declassified report by Daniel L. Davis (Lt Colonel, US Army).    It deserves your attention, as it attacks a core element of our increasingly militarized government:  the integrity of our senior generals — leaders of one of the most-respected institution in America (one of the only two highly respected institutions in America; see Gallup).  This post links to the various pieces of the story, and gives some historical context.

Note:  This has been updated as new information has come in, esp. the New York Times article.


  1. Background about this report, and the two versions
  2. Excerpt from Colonel Davis’ report
  3. Previous news about Colonel Davis’ bombshell
  4. Other articles about the integrity of our senior generals
  5. Other posts about our war in Afghanistan

(1)  Background about this report, and the two versions

(a) The Afghanistan Report the Pentagon Doesn’t Want You to Read“, Michael Hastings, Rolling Stone, 10 February 2012 — Excerpt:

Davis last month submitted the unclassified report –titled “Dereliction of Duty II: Senior Military Leader’s Loss of Integrity Wounds Afghan War Effort” – for an internal Army review. Such a report could then be released to the public. However, according to U.S. military officials familiar with the situation, the Pentagon is refusing to do so. Rolling Stone has now obtained a full copy of the 84-page unclassified version, which has been making the rounds within the U.S. government, including the White House. We’ve decided to publish it in full; it’s well worth reading for yourself. It is, in my estimation, one of the most significant documents published by an active-duty officer in the past ten years.

(b) Army Officer’s Leaked Report Rips Afghan War Success Story“, Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service, 11 February 2012 — Excerpt:

Davis is in a unique position to assess the real situation on the ground in Afghanistan. As a staff officer of the “Rapid Equipping Force,” he traveled more than 9,000 miles to every area where U.S. troop presence was significant and had conversations with more than 250 U.S. soldiers, from privates to division commanders.

(c)  Statement by Colonel Davis about the release of this report. Emailed to me; posted with his permission

Michael Hastings got a copy of one of my early drafts (with an ‘as of’ date of 11 January), so it’s not the final version that i handed over to Army PA. i would really have preferred everyone wait until i had the review back from the Army – whenever that would have turned out to be — so I could have posted it myself; I’m already in enough hot water with folks and would have preferred allowing the process to have run its course so I could have run it without further concern about what Army officials may try to do about it.  but as they say, what’s done is done and this is what I have to deal with now.

(d)  There are two public versions of this report

The version Rolling Stone released:  “Dereliction of Duty II: Senior Military Leaders’ Loss of Integrity Wounds Afghan War Effort“, dated 11 January 2012, 84 pages, and has the header “Draft”.

The New York Times posted an article by Scott Shane and what appears to be a later version of the report; it is dated 6 February 2012 and has 86 pages.  It has the header “unclassified”, not “Draft”.  They also posted a pdf version. Their article calls this “the full unclassified report” that they released because Rolling Stone had already released the report.  The following excerpt comes from this version.

(2)  Excerpt from Colonel Davis’ report


Senior ranking US military leaders have so distorted the truth when communicating with the US Congress and American people in regards to conditions on the ground in Afghanistan that the truth has become unrecognizable. This deception has damaged America’s credibility among both our allies and enemies, severely limiting our ability to reach a political solution to the war in Afghanistan. It has likely cost American taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars Congress might not otherwise have appropriated had it known the truth, and our senior leaders’ behavior has almost certainly extended the duration of this war.

The single greatest penalty our Nation has suffered, however, has been that we have lost the blood, limbs and lives of tens of thousands of American Service Members with little to no gain to our country as a consequence of this deception.


… In the first section below I will demonstrate how numerous military senior leaders have used omission and outright deception in order to prevent the American public from knowing the truth in regards to the genuine conditions on the ground in Afghanistan. I will explain that there has been a significant volume of information available from numerous and reputable open sources that should have been effective in communicating to the American public the truth of the situation. Owing to numerous factors (the key of which are discussed in detail in subsequent sections of the report), however, the powerful and pervasive personalities of several US general officers have been surprisingly effective at convincing even highly educated Americans to believe what the generals say and not what their eyes and evidence tell them.

In the second section I will help the reader gain a better understanding of how the situation described in Section I came to be. For the most part restricting myself to discussing situations in which I was physically a participant, I will first present a number of facts – many of which will be seen in public for the first time – regarding how Army senior leaders have been deceiving the US Congress and American people on some key modernization programs going back to the 1990s. In this section you will see how despite year after year of Government Accountability Office (GAO) analysis done explicitly for the US Congress which showed major and repeating failures in the Future Combat Systems (FCS), the Army’s senior leaders instead told Members of Congress and the US public in press releases that the opposite was true; because Americans have trusted the Army’s leaders more than any other in the country, they accepted the word of the generals and ignored the GAO reports and the physical absence of successful products.

A second major sub-element to this section will be a demonstration – also containing significant new information that has never been seen by the American people – revealing that what virtually the entire country and even a great percentage of our uniformed Service Members believe about how and why the Iraq surge of 2007 was successful, was in fact grossly inaccurate. The version of events that depicted the lion’s share of the causality going to superior US generalship and the adoption of the “protect the population” strategy was created and sustained by a number of key senior US generals. When the full facts are examined, however, it becomes very clear that the surge of troops in 2007 was instrumental at best and according to one senior ground commander who led much of our fight in the Anbar province, “75% to 80% of the credit” for the surge’s success lies elsewhere.

The inaccurate assigning of the reason for the 2007 Iraq surge’s success has profound implications for our current war in Afghanistan and doubly so for the surge forces ordered by the President in late 2009. Had the President known the truth of what really happened in 2007 Iraq it is unlikely he would not have made the decision he did in November/December 2009. In any case, the situation demonstrates a growing and expanding willingness on the part of our country’s senior military leaders to use “Information Operations” even on domestic audiences to manipulate the system in order to get what they want.

… Section III will cover a broad range of negative consequences that our country has paid and will continue to pay until changes are made. We’ve lost credibility with our allies and friends in the region; we’ve lost almost all credibility among even the Afghan population and individual government officials; and our word has no value among our enemies. Many may be tempted to believe it unimportant what our enemies think, but it is almost as important as it is for us to have our closest allies believe in us: at some point this war will have to end in a political settlement of some sort. If our enemy isn’t able to believe the word of our country, we may never find a foundation upon which to reach an agreeable accord to end the war on terms acceptable to us.

Finally I will lay out a few recommendations on a way forward to address these deficiencies.

(3)  Previous news about Colonel Davis’ bombshell

(4)  Other articles about the integrity of our senior generals

Colonel Davis is not the first to criticize our senior generals, although his is one of the best-documented indictments.

  1. It only takes the right leader”, the late David H. Hackworth (Colonel, US Army), 1 July 2001
  2. Fire the Generals!“, Douglas A. Macgregor (Colonel, US Army, retired), posted at Defense and the National Interest, 30 April 2007
  3. A Failure in Generalship“, Paul Yingling (Lieutenant Colonel, US Army), Armed Forces Journal, May 2007
  4. The Core Competence of America’s Military Leaders ”, FM website, 22 May 2007
  5. Careerism and Psychopathy in the US Military leadership, GI Wilson (Colonel, USMC, retired), 2 May 2011

(5)  Other posts about our war in Afghanistan

  1. We are withdrawing from Afghanistan, too (eventually), 21 April 2008
  2. The good news about COIN in Afghanistan is really bad news, 20 August 2008
  3. The simple, fool-proof plan for victory in Afghanistan , 1 June 2009
  4. The trinity of modern warfare at work in Afghanistan, 13 July 2009
  5. Important:  You can end our war in Afghanistan, 20 August 2009
  6. How many troops would it take to win in Afghanistan?, 15 September 2009
  7. About those large and growing Afghanistan security forces…, 26 September 2009
  8. DoD did not consider troop levels when devising our latest Af-Pak war plans, more evidence that their OODA loop is broken, 8 October 2009
  9. The future of Marjah, after the invasion and occupation, 23 February 2010
  10. A powerful story from Afghanistan, an illustration of our un-strategy at work, 18 April 2010
  11. On Strategy (specifically in Afghanistan), 1 September 2010
  12. Presidential decision-making about Vietnam and Afghanistan: “You have 3 choices, sir”, 5 October 2010
  13. Kubler-Ross gives us a good perspective on the evolution of the Afghanistan War,19 October 2010
  14. About our operations in Kandahar – all that’s old is new again, 20 October 2010

15 thoughts on “Rolling Stone releases Colonel Davis’ blockbuster report about Afghanistan – and our senior generals!”

  1. Just wanted to point out, the documentcloud link I posted earlier was found on the New York Times blog (after RS leaked their copy). It is a slightly different version, two pages longer and dated Feb 6, 2012. The Rolling Stone version is older and marked “draft.”

  2. Somewhat related to this… are we being told the truth about the potential consequences of an attack on Iran? Specifically, some of the warmongers are trying to make the case that Iran can’t do much in retaliation.

    Some people, the War Nerd among them, have theorized that at this point our naval task forces are obsolete and extremely vulnerable to the latest generation of anti-ship cruise missiles, specifically those of Russian origin that travel faster than Mach 2 below radar, and are vastly superior to the Exocets that sunk two British warships in the Falkland war.

    Is it, then, quite possible that an attack by Israel tolerated or supported by the US could lead to (tens of) thousands of casualties and (tens of) billions of dollars of damage to the US fleet in the Persian Gulf, and that reopening the Straits of Hormuz would be difficult and perhaps even impossible? Is it actually probable that the day after an Israeli attack, the US news would be dominated by the horrendous outcome of an Iranian missile attack on our obsolete surface vessels?

    It certainly might be nice to know that… before it’s too late.

    1. “are we being told the truth about the potential consequences of an attack on Iran?”

      Of course not! But the primary reason is that everybody is working from models of how they think such a war would progress but every model is going to be flawed in some way.

      Wars are usually lost before they are begun because one side has typically already made at least one more critical mistake than their opponent before the war begins (sometimes the only critical mistake was in starting the war at this time). Everything after that is an incredibly chaotic, incredibly destructive clean-up operation (although it is usually not evident at the time).

      This is why I so deeply fear the increasing US tendancy to involve itself in foolish messes; someday the side that makes the big critical mistake will be us.

      1. I agree on all points. We can see in Gone with the Wind much of what we need know about war. The party scene at the start represents the thinking of people starting most wars. Their arrogant confidence, and expectation of fast easy victory. Their cheering as they ride off to war.

        The scene at the army hospital in Atlanta represents the reality, some of the cost. Wise indeed is the nation that can wage war only when necessary. When worth the cost.

    2. Depending on where the USN assets in question happen to be, it could be a worse scenario than the Falklands. Argentine aircraft had to deliver the exocets and a typical ‘carrier task force group under attack’ scenario assumes heavy top-cover and AWACs, etc. In the case of a war with Iran, it’s plausible that the cruise missiles would be being launched from the land: much harder to detect the launchers, and dirt is hard to sink or shoot down. The effectiveness of the Patriot missiles in Gulf War I was similar to “the surge” vastly oversold. Iranian ballistic missiles are substantially better than Saddam’s scuds.

      A simultaneous combined attack by ballistic missiles and cruise missiles would be a huge problem for a carrier task force group. The USN’s raison d’etre would be on the table, as the Royal Navy’s was following the sinking of the Sheffield – if the Iranians manage to inflict significant damage, but I believe there’s a potential for much worse than that. It is plausible that a great deal of the presumed defensibility of a US carrier task force group is that for a long time everyone has thought nobody in their right mind would attack one. All that fancy stuff might work. But then again, it might not.

      When I see the run-up on this war, I wonder if there are actually some idiots who are hoping to find out. Secondhand, from behind safe desks, of course.

  3. From a comment posted to the Rolling Stone aricle by “Virgil Kane”: “LTC Davis is using his position as a one-time aid to Sen Kay Bailey Hutchinson to score some points and even some scores.”

    That little fact certainly complicates, if not compromises, his entire report. Unless he precludes it with a vow to never re-enter politics, or even work in DC. Might actually be smart, since his position is not likely to be popular in Texas, or other “Red” states. Is every current/future reservist working for Congressional staff now saying: “Thanks for nothing, Davis!”

    Separating Politics & Military … somewhat reminiscent of the issue of separating Church & State? It constrains, and may even preclude, efficient operations.

    1. I find your comment difficult to understand. Virgil Kane provides no evidence to support his assertions, which appear to be in the classic form of “rebuttal by making stuff up.” Rather I see these attacks as showing the strength of Davis’ report. He provides detailed information. They whine that he’s unfair and wrong.

      You comment about politics makes even less sense, IMO. Our senior generals have close ties to Congress. There is nothing even remotely like separation of Political & Military affairs. Who even advocates such a thing? Also, why should only critics be held to this innocent-as-a-lamb standard? On planet Earth critics have to play in the same arena as the powerful, and should be held to the same standards as the powerful. Not, as you imply, to higher standards they give every advantage to the powerful forces of the status quo.

  4. You’ve beat me too it again FM. I’ve been reading this through and some parts are superb. I love this:

    “The United States, along with over 40 NATO and other allied nations, possess the most sophisticated, powerful, and technologically advanced military force …… against:
    A bunch of dudes in bed sheets and flip-flops.”

    Which just proves again that war (as in all other endeavours) is all about people (score another for John Boyd, et al).

    It also shows that collective cognitive dissonance is far worse and far more dangerous than the individual version, though it starts there of course.
    If the organisational structure is such that this is facilitated then it is unlikely that the organisation will achieve ANY of its stated goals, since it is simply easier to obfusicate and downright lie (individually and collectively) than take the actual measures necessary to change.

  5. Pingback: The Attritionist Letters: the Marines shackl their field-grade officers & losing wars - Fabius Maximus website

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