Congressman wants Afghanistan Study Group

By Kate Brannen –  Friday Feb 10, 2012 16:58:28 EST

Citing an Army lieutenant colonel’s claims that there is no progress being made in Afghanistan, Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., is urging Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to create an independent study group to review U.S. strategy in the sandbox.

In a letter dated Friday, Wolf wrote he is deeply troubled by the conclusions reached by Lt. Col. Daniel Davis and asks Panetta to immediately create an Afghanistan/Pakistan Study Group.

In 2010 and 2011, Davis traveled to Afghanistan on assignment with the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force, an organization tasked with getting urgently needed equipment to soldiers in the field.

“What I saw bore no resemblance to rosy official statements by U.S. military leaders about conditions on the ground,” Davis wrote in an opinion piece titled “Truth, lies and Afghanistan,” published online Feb. 5 by Armed Forces Journal .

Rather than the gradual progress described by top U.S. officials, Davis wrote he saw, “the absence of success on virtually every level.”

During a yearlong deployment that began in late 2010, Davis wrote, his job sent him around the country to talk, travel and patrol with troops in Kandahar, Kunar, Ghazni, Khost, Paktika, Kunduz, Balkh, Nangarhar and other provinces. It was his fourth combat deployment, and his second in Afghanistan.

Davis wrote a classified and unclassified report. He has not released either report publicly. On his website , he says he will publish the full unclassified version as soon as Army public affairs completes its review and grants permission for release.

On Feb. 10, Rolling Stone magazine published a copy of the unclassified version on its website.

Davis has provided the reports to members of Congress — both Democrats and Republicans, senators and House members. He has also sent his reports to the Defense Department’s inspector general.

He declined to comment for this story.

The Pentagon maintains that the security environment in Afghanistan continues to improve.

During a briefing this week, Army Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, deputy commander of U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, described steady progress in the country, from local and national government to the development of Afghan security forces. Responding to a question about Davis’ report, Scaparrotti said, “it’s one person’s view of this,” adding that he thought the Defense Department’s outlook is accurate.

Wolf has written similar letters to Panetta over the past several months.

The congressman is the author of the legislation that created the Iraq Study Group and has been pushing for the Obama administration to conduct a similar review of the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Wolf was successful in adding a provision to the 2012 defense appropriations bill that sets aside $1 million to create an independent, bipartisan panel to review the U.S strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Through a series of letters, Wolf has urged Panetta, who served on the Iraq Study Group, to set up the new panel.

In January, he sent a letter following the release of the National Intelligence Estimate for Afghanistan, which Wolf said painted a “very bleak picture of the war.”

“The NIE’s assessment could lead to support for the war in Afghanistan eroding among the American people and I feel the same sentiment will soon permeate the halls of Congress,” Wolf wrote in his Jan. 17 letter.

Wolf has said that former congressmen Republican Duncan L. Hunter of California and Democrat Ike Skelton from Missouri would be good choices to serve on the panel. Both served as chairs of the House Armed Services Committee.

In a postscript to his Feb. 10 letter, Wolf wrote to Panetta, “I know you care deeply about our service members serving overseas and that you and your team are doing what you think is best for our country. But I believe any objective observer would agree we need fresh eyes on the target.”

Wolf attached Davis’ Armed Forces Journal op-ed to his letter.