Veterans Of The War In Afghanistan Reflect On The Rapid Collapse
Many veterans long supported an end to the war in Afghanistan, but they also watched with anger and disbelief as the country, seemingly overnight, fell to the Taliban.
During the last 20 years, the war they fought usually disappeared from the front pages, barely showing up on social media, except for the tight communities, sometimes described as Mil-Twitter, or military Twitter. Suddenly, the war in Afghanistan is everywhere.
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“A few times I felt physically dizzy,” said James Seddon, a former Naval officer from San Diego. In 2009, he was a liaison officer in Afghanistan.
“The chaotic scenes at the airport,” he said. “An airport I’ve been to many times. And seeing the Taliban in the presidential palace. A place I’ve been to many times. And I need to prep myself for more scenes like that, because more are coming.”
Seddon says the lack of terrorist attacks by Al Qaeda over the last 20 years is proof that the war wasn’t fought in vain. Zalima Shaver is an Army staff sergeant stationed at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton Ohio. She says she believes it was time for the U.S. to leave Afghanistan.
“That is their country,” she said. “They are never going to change. Never, ever, ever, going to change. We are not going to change them. As you can see right now — 20 years and see how quickly the Taliban jumped right back in there.”
Shaver was a civil affairs officer in 2008 and 2009. Most of the time, she was showing people the reconstruction projects underway in Afghanistan. She is concerned about the fate of Afghan women, especially younger women who believed in American promises. As painful as it is to watch, she says the U.S. did as much good as possible, while Americans were there.
“I personally believe this was a complete waste of time," said Jason Lilley, a former Marine Raider who lives in Orange County.
He was in Afghanistan in 2009 and again in 2012 and 2013 and later worked as a civilian with the U.S. government. He’s now thinking that he needs to reach out to Vietnam veterans, realizing the two groups may now have a common bond.
“It could have been much different, if we went in hard,” he said. "Hit it as hard as we could for a few years. Did exactly what we were supposed to do and that is get rid of the Taliban, get rid of Al Qaeda. Get rid of Osama and got out. Why 20 years?”
For Matt Dearing, it’s a different story. The Marine veteran worked to train Afghan police and military as a civilian in the defense department. He is also author of the book “Militia Order in Afghanistan.” He says the U.S. should have spent more time trying to win-over the people, instead of trying to build up the Afghan military and central government.
“We really need to examine how and whether we engage in these large scale military capacity building operations,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we stop engaging with our partners.”
Dearing thinks the U.S. should have stayed in some capacity, and that leaving in such a chaotic fashion will have long term consequences.
Tom Porter, a Navy Reservist, was in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011. He’s now with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, which is a service organization for post-9/11 vets. Porter has been reaching out to fellow vets, who are watching everything unfold in real time. Many people are trying to stay away from the news but they can’t help themselves.
“To see it all melt away in a matter of hours,” he said. “It’s shocking and it’s angering. And you are going to have a lot of veterans, service members and their families wondering if it was all worth it.”
His suggestion to non-veterans is to reach out to veterans of this war and ask them about their service. Few people ever ask. Though leave the politics at the door, he said. Just find out how they served during America’s longest war.