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A Commander’s Thoughts on Afghanistan

How did you feel after investing so much of your career in Afghanistan?

It’s a tough pill to swallow to see how it went down. I had a chance to speak to General Dunford; he had been the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and was very involved in this process. He just talked about Afghanistan in a way that helped me deal with it better.

Basically, he described what we were doing in Afghanistan as an insurance policy. You have this presence in Afghanistan to tamp down terrorism and to launch 9/11 tactical from. It’s also a great location to keep an eye on Pakistan and Iran.

Being there kept the U.S. in a place that’s a very tumultuous location. But at some point in time, you must decide if you want to pay the insurance or not. If you’re not going to pay the insurance, you allow things to happen; you throw up your hands.

The Military has its opinion, but the President makes the call at the end of the day on whether to pay that bill or not. With the cost constantly increasing without much return on investment, you make that call to pull out. So, in many ways, it’s a business decision to pull out of there, and I understood that part of it. The way it all happened is regrettable. Having so many Afghans we had worked with for years caught up in that was rough. I get it from a practical level, but it certainly hurts on a personal level.

Do you feel the fall of Afghanistan was like Vietnam?

The difference between then and now is the support for the troops. With Vietnam, you didn’t have that piece of it. I think everyone in the U.S. was upset with how Afghanistan went down. I don’t think it mattered if you were military or anti-military, Whereas, in Vietnam, many people didn’t support the troops. You couldn’t even wear your uniform in public without being harassed. So, very different in that regard.

Do you believe there is a different perspective between officers and enlisted?

In some ways, I think an enlisted person that went over there, especially if they lost a friend, would be wondering why. The “why” of it all would feel very personal to them. Why did we even go there at all if we were just going to leave 10 years later? It’s hard to justify the loss of a friend when you don’t understand the “why”. As an officer, I may be able to understand things from a more strategic point of view, but I lost friends too. It’s tough—for anybody—it’s tough. But I think it may be tougher if you were on the ground every day patrolling out there and busting your butt only to see all that go away. You can’t help but wonder if it was worth it.


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