Two years after the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, veterans grapple with mixed emotions about the war.
John Byrnes, deputy director of Concerned Veterans for America, argues that accountability and change in U.S. military policies can help veterans make peace with their experiences.
Byrnes emphasizes the need for Congress to exercise proper oversight and for America's leaders to be held accountable for their decisions, especially those that led to the loss of lives and the extension of the war without clear objectives.
The Emotional Toll on Veterans
For those who served in Afghanistan, watching the country's fall was a gut-wrenching experience. It seemed as if two decades of service, sacrifice, and courage had been in vain.
Young soldiers, some as old as the war itself, lost their lives just days before the withdrawal was complete. These moments serve as a poignant reminder of the dedication and resilience of our military personnel.
Despite the tragic end, it's crucial to remember that the original missions in Afghanistan—overthrowing the Taliban in 2002, ejecting al-Qaida, and killing Osama bin Laden—were accomplished.
These valorous actions and notable outcomes should not be overshadowed by the subsequent years of mission creep and nation-building.
The Need for Accountability
One of the significant issues highlighted is the use of open-ended Authorizations for Use of Military Force (AUMFs).
These have allowed Pentagon leaders and presidents to send troops into combat without proper congressional oversight.
This lack of accountability has led to the loss of over 7,000 service members, allies, and military contractors since 9/11.
The Afghanistan Papers
The Afghanistan Papers revealed that U.S. leaders were aware early on that nation-building in Afghanistan was an impossible task.
Yet, they continued to send troops, including the author's friends, into harm's way.
As the Afghanistan War Commission begins its work, there is a collective hope among veterans for accountability.
The Biden Administration's Botched Withdrawal: A Lingering Wound for Afghanistan Veterans
The Fallout of a Failed Exit Strategy
In August 2021, the Biden administration's withdrawal from Afghanistan was marked by chaos and a lack of foresight.
The rapid takeover of Kabul by the Taliban sent shockwaves across the globe and triggered a humanitarian crisis that continues to reverberate two years later.
Scenes of desperation at the Kabul airport became emblematic of a botched exit strategy, leaving thousands of Afghan allies and vulnerable citizens in peril.
The Struggle for Resettlement
The withdrawal's disastrous execution has had a lasting impact on Afghan refugees, many of whom risked their lives to support U.S. military operations.
Community centers like Lucky's halal market in Fort Worth, Texas, have become safe havens for these refugees.
However, the U.S. government's response has been lackluster at best. Despite visits from Biden administration officials, the efforts to resettle Afghans whose lives are threatened by the Taliban's return to power continue to face challenges.
The Veterans' Perspective
For Afghanistan veterans, the botched withdrawal and its aftermath add another layer of complexity to their already complicated feelings about the war.
The lack of accountability and urgency from the Biden administration not only betrays the values of honor, courage, and loyalty but also leaves veterans questioning the sacrifices they and their comrades made.
Organizations like the veteran-led #AfghanEvac coalition are stepping in to fill the void left by the government, pressuring the administration to expedite visa processes and increase support for refugees.
An Urgent Call for Accountability
The story of Afghan resettlement is not just a tale of resilience; it's a stark reminder of the consequences of political decisions.
The Biden administration must act with the urgency and determination that this situation demands. Anything less is a betrayal of the values that we, as a nation, and our veterans, in particular, hold dear.
The Path Forward
Lessons from Afghanistan
If there's one lesson to be learned, it's that wars must be executed responsibly, with realistic, vital goals in mind.
Congress needs to exercise proper oversight to prevent combat missions from deviating from their original objectives.
Making Peace with the Past
Two years post-withdrawal, veterans like Byrnes still grapple with complicated feelings about the war.
However, a change in how the U.S. approaches war and accountability can help these brave men and women sort through those feelings and find peace.
This article is based on an op-ed by John Byrnes, a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and Army National Guard, who deployed to Somalia, Iraq, and Afghanistan. He is currently the deputy director of Concerned Veterans for America.