President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that America would begin a gradual withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, with all U.S. military forces out of the country by Sept. 11, 2021, thus ending America’s longest war.
“We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan hoping to create the ideal conditions for our withdrawal, expecting a different result,” Biden said during the address, The Associated Press reported.
In blood and treasure, the nearly two decade war has resulted in the deaths of about 2,400 of America’s fighting men and women, while the financial cost has climbed over $2 trillion, Military Times reported Friday.
The total effects of the “Forever War” remain incalculable — and perhaps indescribable — and will echo beyond the generations of Americans and Afghans that fought in the conflict. But Biden’s announcement of an impending end to the war has caused some veterans to express what that conclusion will mean for America— and for them.
Here’s what some of those veterans have to say:
A complicated history
Matthew Komatsu — a career U.S. Air Force combat rescue officer, senior leader in Alaska’s Air National Guard and three-tour Afghanistan veteran — tries to wrap his arms around a “water-filled trash bag of emotions” that news of the withdrawal has left him feeling in an essay for Esquire magazine Friday.
The combat veteran wrote — partially to other veterans, partially to himself — that “it’s OK to admit that you miss it” while assessing what the war has cost Americans and Afghans. Komatsu acknowledges that it’s “the fact that you survived when others did not that still cuts.”
- “It all felt so righteous back in 2001 and 2002. So purposeful. The nation had rallied behind the mission to bring our enemies to justice. You were going to find bin Laden and everyone else on the rogue’s deck of cards and make them pay,” the Air Force colonel writes in Esquire of the beginning of a war.
- “Yet you cannot help but ask yourself how it came to this, because you always believed your calling was to ensure that it did not. You held on to the brief glimmers of hope ― the schools, the wells, the roads ― until the very end, until you finally knew for certain: American exceptionalism was no match for the Graveyard of Nations. The schools were abandoned, the wells ran dry, and the roads became battlegrounds. The land taken with the blood of the dead you bore was lost once again,” writes Komatsu.
Americans and Afghans deserve a careful withdrawal
In March, before Biden announced the September withdrawal date, Andrew McCormick — a former U.S. Navy officer with back-to-back tours in Afghanistan in 2013 and 2014 — wrote in NBC News’ “Think” that “some of the finest people I’ve met are ones I served with in Afghanistan.”
The two-tour veteran acknowledged there are certainly “credible, good-faith arguments that even one more day is too long,” but warned there is a cost to hasty withdraw — for Americans and Afghans.
- “In this critical final moment, a careful exit — a bit more time to shore up the transition from a military mission to a diplomatic one, to reassure the beleaguered Afghan government and to clarify the terms of a prospective peace with the Taliban — can avoid further squandering all those Americans’ contributions,” McCormick wrote.
- “Not to mention the international troops who filled out the American-led coalition,” he adds.
“Many Afghans, recalling brutal rule by the Taliban — the severe oppression of women, especially — were once willing to give the U.S. and a new Afghan government a chance. To those people, to all Afghans, we owe better than an indifferent rush out the door,” McCormick wrote for NBC News.
War veterans turned politicians respond
Afghanistan veterans that serve in the U.S. Congress had mixed feeling about whether America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan was a good decision or not.
Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan, a U.S. Marine Corps Reserve colonel who served in Afghanistan in 2013, warned this week that terrorists will celebrate the United States’ withdrawal from the country.
- “9/11, a day of immense tragedy for our nation, was celebrated by violent extremists around the globe. If the Biden administration advances its goal of withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan 20 years later — on that same date — the same extremists will be celebrating yet again,” Sullivan said on Twitter.
Freshman congressman and Democrat Kai Kahele — an Air Force lieutenant colonel in the Hawaii Air Guard who served as a pilot in multiple deployments during Operation Enduring Freedom — said on Twitter this week that “800K U.S troops have served in Afghanistan since 9/11.”
- “Withdrawing our troop presence is significant for service members like myself who have seen a nation at war our entire career,” said Kahele on Twitter.
- “We must realign our resources to the real & growing threats we face in the Indo-Pacific region,” the congressman added.
- “If there was a military solution to the war, we would’ve found it yrs(sic) ago,” Crow said on Twitter after President Biden announced the September withdrawal.
- “In Congress, I’ll work to ensure that during the withdrawal we protect our troops, keep our promises to our allies, & protect the women & children of Afghanistan,” the Operation Enduring Freedom veteran added.