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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Biden Announces He Will End America's Longest War In Afghanistan

 April 15, 2021 at 12:41 PM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 September 11th of this year is now the target date for all us troops to be out of Afghanistan. The withdrawal announced yesterday by president Biden will end America's longest war us troops were first deployed in the months after nine 11, 20 years ago to root out the safe Haven for Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Since that time more than 2300 American military personnel have died in that fight, Marines from camp Pendleton were in the thick of battle during the darkest days of the war. The third battalion fifth regiment known as the dark horse battalion suffered the worst casualty rate of any Marine unit in the Afghan war. Joining me is KPBS military reporter, Steve Walsh, and Steve. Speaker 2: 00:44 Welcome. Hi Maureen, Speaker 1: 00:46 Let's start with president Biden's announcement yesterday. The Afghan government is still unstable. The Taliban have not agreed to peace conditions. So why does he want America to leave now? Speaker 2: 00:59 Well, essentially he has an agreement on the table that says that we should actually be pulling out by May 1st. So he's got that. So his decision to go ahead and pull out on September 11th is really a compromise between, um, the Afghan government and, uh, his own generals who want to see a more gradual pullout on how many us troops are in Afghanistan. Now we only have about 2,500 troops in Afghanistan right now. There were 5,000 troops last year. So that is one of the reasons why at this point, you know, they really have to make a decision on whether to go ahead and just end the Afghan war considering if the Taliban decides that they don't want to, uh, serve a ceasefire, it'd be very difficult for the Americans to really counter the Taliban with only 2,500 troops in the country Speaker 1: 01:58 Reaction to Biden's decision to withdraw the troops in September. Speaker 2: 02:02 So, you know, you have the people who have said all along that this could lead to a resurgence of either Al-Qaeda or ISIS, uh, combined with, um, you know, with what essentially are the majority of voices in this country. They say that we've been there for 20 years. At this point, we haven't really moved the needle. We haven't changed, you know, fundamentally Afghanistan in, in the way the country works. That it's, that it's time to just simply pull out. And that staying another couple of years really won't make much of a difference. Speaker 1: 02:36 Now, at one point there were about 100,000 us troops in Afghanistan and camp Pendleton Marines played a crucial role there for several years. Remind us about that time. Speaker 2: 02:49 Well, they have been there, Pendleton Marines have been there since the beginning. You know, this is the home of the first Marine division, but they, um, they have the distinction of the dark horse battalion, which has had the most losses of any unit in Afghanistan in the 20 year history of that war we had, um, this was back in October, 2010 through April of 2011. Um, they lost 25 Marines during, uh, operation during freedom. They were patrolling hell Mont province. There was 184 wounded, uh, 34, uh, Marines, at least lost one limb. The Marines had come into Hellman province. This was, um, a strong hold of, of the telephone. The British had been there before that, but the Marines decided to take a much more aggressive approach and they paid the price for it. Now, of course, they'll also say that they, um, you know, they, they had some success there and that life did return to normal. At least for a while. Markets started to reopen, uh, things started to look a little more normal in Helmand province before those Marines pulled out. But, um, it came at a, an incredibly heavy price. Speaker 1: 04:07 I spoke with Justin Campbell, a us Navy medical services Corps officer who served two tours in Afghanistan, reflecting on the announcement. Speaker 2: 04:16 You know, I started to recall and go back to things I really had thought about in years. And some of it you don't want to think about, and I am sure there are veterans all over the country and other countries of Afghanistan that are right now kind of reliving and kind of going back and processing not only what they experience, but then trying to make meaning out of it. Like, what does it all mean? Was it worth it? And there's obviously going to be a range of answers to that as well. Okay. Speaker 1: 04:50 And are there still fresh memories at Pendleton about those losses and about the repeated deployments Marines went through at that time? Speaker 2: 05:00 Sure. And I actually put in some calls up to Pendleton to see if we have any of those Marines or any Marines from camp Pendleton. They're now among the 2,500. It wouldn't surprise me if we did. Now, we always have to keep in mind that the Marines are a very young force. So the youngest force of any of the services. So they rotate out very quickly. There aren't really very many people still left from the dark horse battalion. These in those that are, there would be officers who were really on sort of the back nine of their career. So we we've seen even in the last couple of years that, uh, the Marines themselves have turned away from preparing for desert warfare in Iraq, in Afghanistan, to moving more towards going back to their traditional role of working with the Navy and Fabius warfare, as they prepare for what they say is great power conflicts, the potential of, of fighting either the Russians or the Chinese, Speaker 1: 06:00 The Pew research center surveyed veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan a couple of years ago and found that majorities of those veterans did not think the Wars were worth fighting. Do you believe that some of that same frustration about the war exists within the ranks today? Speaker 2: 06:17 Wow. We were doing some of those surveys 10 years ago, and you were seeing the identical sort of frustration. You know, it's a very hard war to describe in many ways. It's much more, you know, it's much more, uh, it's easier to describe than the Iraq war Osama bin Ladin was actually in Afghanistan when we, uh, we attacked back in 2001. Um, but yet it is drug on for so long and we still have a hard time figuring out who is the enemy here? Is it Al Qaeda? Is it ISIS? Is it the Taliban itself? It's hard to see the telephone is being the enemy considering we're in negotiations with them right now. And they're likely to play a role in, in running the country after we leave. So it's not an easy war to summarize. Speaker 1: 07:11 Indeed. I've been speaking with KPBS, military reporter, Steve Walsh. Steve. Thank you very much. Thanks Maureen. Speaker 3: 07:25 [inaudible].

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The president will announce the intention to withdraw American forces from Afghanistan after nearly 20 years of an active U.S. military presence in the country.
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