Why These Veterans Are Demanding an End to War in Afghanistan
This Veterans Day, about 200,000 American troops are being deployed abroad. In the Video Op-Ed above, the Eurasia Group Foundation, which seeks to make public debates about United States foreign policy more inclusive, interviewed five veterans from diverse backgrounds who oppose continuing the war. These veterans, who served in Afghanistan or were part of the support apparatus for the Afghan war, say the United States should withdraw all troops from Afghanistan.
Their harrowing stories from the battlefield shed light on what they see as an unwinnable conflict in a foreign land. There is, these veterans say, no point in continuing an 18-year war whose outcome will be the same no matter how many more American troops are killed.
In February, The New York Times editorial board called for an end to the Afghan war, a marked shift from its yearslong policy of support. This summer, a Pew survey found that the majority of Americans — and the majority of veterans — think the war "has not been worth fighting." The trend in public opinion seems increasingly clear. But American leaders remain reluctant to make major changes.
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When I signed up for the Marine Corps, I really believed in the mission. I believed that it was bringing something like democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan. But now, I don’ t see how you can be a killer and be a nation builder at the same time. There's a concept that if you kill the wrong person you just create more insurgents. How do I win the hearts and minds of the local populace by walking around with a machine gun in their neighborhood and shooting at people? Democracy doesn’t come in a box. It’s not something that fits every country. And it’s an ideal that America has never been willing to let go. The fact that we’ve gotten to this place now, in 2019, where poll after poll has shown that nearly two-thirds of Afghan and Iraq veterans have said, quote, “The wars were not worth fighting,” is remarkable, because that’s a higher rate than the American people at large who didn’t serve. The United States does not possess the capability to ultimately alter the outcomes meaningfully in Afghanistan. I consider myself a conservative, a Republican. In 2011, I had read that things were on the way to getting better. But when I was deployed to Afghanistan, I can tell you, I saw violence was going up the civilians were getting killed, the Afghan military were not being effectively trained. Our leadership had been lying to us. You cannot accomplish with military power a political outcome. ”The bad news if we leave this place it’ll to go to shit in a year.” “Seriously?” “If we pull out, this place will fall apart very, very quickly.” “In terms of our security, you need to maintain some footprint or some guarantee that Al Qaeda won’t resurge in the area.” There’s this line of thinking that if we withdraw from Afghanistan, there will be a new civil war that’s going to start. O.K., there is a civil war going on in Afghanistan right now. The Afghans were having a civil war in 2001 when we first went in there. They had been fighting for years. And our presence there does not stop it. We’re keeping our troops there indefinitely because of this idea that if we leave there’s going to be this vacuum. This idea really needs to be questioned. It’s really not an idea of safety. It’s really keep our troops on the ground to control the Muslims and the brown people of Afghanistan. I don’t think the American people have actually really refreshed their browser on the Afghan war since 2001 or two. All the guys who are responsible for 9/11 are dead. The primary enemy in Afghanistan is the Taliban. It’s crucial for Americans to understand that the Taliban is not Al Qaeda. Whereas Al Qaeda is centered on going to war with the United States, the Taliban rejects that entire idea. Their concern is not to make the world Islamic. It’s to make Afghanistan an Islamic emirate. The fact is right now that tactically on the ground in Afghanistan, the Taliban are in a very strong position. Southwest Afghanistan is just a free-fire zone. Everybody is getting shot at regularly. The Taliban own the area outside of us and they would just bombard our towers all day and we’d fight back and forth. And then we’d have to go out on patrol, even though patrolling was stupid because as soon as you leave the walls you have no protection. I remember hearing the first explosion when the first Marine landed on an I.E.D. and it seemed entirely meaningless to me. There seemed to be no redemptive meaning behind this death. I was there when we had 140,000 troops on the ground. And I can tell you there was vast areas of the country that we didn’t even have influence. Now imagine the 14,000 troops we have there right now. They’re not protecting anything back home. We’re creating war zones and we’re creating refugees. People are going to get mad. They’re going to get upset and they’re going to get tired of it. They’re going to want revenge and they’re going to figure it out. It’s a war that we've spent $1 trillion on now. It’s a war where thousands of people have died, where children are growing up and all they’ve ever grown up in is a war zone. That’s the big lesson we need to learn. Diplomacy and targeted military deterrence is what will keep you safe. Whether we leave tomorrow or whether we leave 10 years from now, the outcome is the same, which is a brutal civil war and half the country is going to fall under Taliban rule again and women are going to live in a medieval situation until the Afghan people as a whole come up with an Afghan solution to an Afghan problem. It hurts like hell to say we should leave. But the argument that we should stay there because we are protecting women’s rights is not good enough anymore. Whatever we do is never going to ensure that the most disenfranchised people in Afghanistan are going to be protected, that women are going to have their rights protected. That is a burden that America will have to bear on its soul. I’ve seen firsthand men that I’ve known that end up getting blown up there, and I've questioned what do they sacrifice themselves for. But I’ll tell you what I’m worried about even war is that is the ones who haven’t died yet. Kids are joining the Army today -- today -- who were born after 9/11. Within six months, they’ll be in Afghanistan. My dad was in the military. My grandpa was in the Marine Corps and my daughter’s 4 now -- she's about to be 5. And I want the war to be over. Because 12 to 15 years from now, I don’t want my kid to die in the war that I went to.