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This week marked the end of America’s longest war after President Joe Biden announced that the last of American troops had finally exited Afghanistan.
The president had called for the withdrawal of American troops from the country earlier this month, sparking controversy over the sudden departure. In the weeks since that announcement, the Taliban has gained control of the country. A number of American cities are still in the country, according to Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, who said that number was in “the very low hundreds.”
Hundreds of thousands of service members have been deployed to Afghanistan over the course of a war that has shaped an entire generation of Americans. We asked readers who had served in Afghanistan or had loved ones who served what the news of America’s withdrawal meant to them. They shared conflicted sentiments — both happy that the war was over and frustrated at what it took to get here.
“The overriding thought I’ve had is that we clearly did not successfully plan and coordinate our withdrawal with our NATO allies, partner nations, and the government of Afghanistan,” said Fred Lora, a veteran of the U.S. Army.
Lora, a resident of Adams, Mass., said that while he thought the attempt to evacuate was “valiant,” more could’ve been done to avoid leaving people behind.
“We withdrew our military forces before our allies, U.S. citizens within Afghanistan, and Afghans seeking to leave Afghanistan under the U.S. Special Immigrant Visa program had sufficient time to depart the country,” he said. “We still have Americans and Afghans that are trying to safely leave the country.” He added that more time was needed, and the U.S. had the ability to provide that time. “But we didn’t.”
Policymakers have expressed similar disappointment in the handling of the withdrawal. Mass. Democratic Representative Seth Moulton called the departure a “disaster.”
“To say that today is anything short of a disaster would be dishonest. Worse, it was avoidable. The time to debate whether we stay in Afghanistan has passed, but there is still time to debate how we manage our retreat.”
Despite the complications, however, some were just glad to see the war come to an end. One reader, who said their brother was killed in Afghanistan said they were “glad it’s over.”
Shauna from Boston had a loved one serving in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020. She said she watched as he suffered from severe injuries and debilitating PTSD after being injured by a roadside bomb blast while on duty.
“When there are casualties, the military would shut down the internet for days until they could notify the families. You never know if it’s your loved one that was injured or killed when you don’t hear from them for days. It’s torture,” she said. “[I] just want to it done and over with and want our soldiers home, safely.”
The United States should have left Afghanistan a decade ago, said James Ayube of Salem, whose son served from 2007 to 2010.
“We had no business getting into the country-building arena, especially in a country that has been resisting invaders for centuries. We pushed out Al Qaeda after 9/11 and that should have been the end of it. Instead, thousands of our troops and many thousands of Afghans died,” he said. “What is especially galling is to see many of the architects and supporters of the failures from the past 20 years being interviewed in the media — not to accept responsibility for the failures but to blame Biden!”
Some military members told Boston.com they were especially concerned for the Afghans who will suffer as a result of the withdrawal. A group of troops and veterans is currently working to help Afghan refugees who worked as interpreters and aids for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Former commander Michael DeMartino from Exeter, N.H. said he worked as an intelligence contractor in Kabul and later as a support analyst here in Massachusetts. He is one of many concerned about the impact on Afghans still in the country.
“The entire thing is just disgusting. President Biden failed us, and more disgustingly, the Afghan people,” he said. “I never imagined I’d be seeing the U.S. shrugging its shoulders at these innocents. Truly terrible.”
The United States is housing nearly 20,000 Afghan refugees in five states, while another 40,000 evacuees remain at bases overseas in Qatar and Germany.
Steve Athanas, a Worcester native who flew unarmed civilian helicopters in southern Afghanistan from 2007 to 2014, said that while he believes America because “survive this humiliation,” his real concern is for the people of Afghanistan.
Athanas said that he’s thought a lot about the Afghan translators he came to know in the seven years he spent in the country.
“For those we left behind, the good of Afghanistan, my conscience weeps,” he said. “The current debacle lays at the feet of military leaders who had to have known the withdrawal plan went completely against military principles and, more importantly, logic. Memories may fade but in this instance, we have abandoned, temporarily I hope, the principles of honor and selflessness that have made America great.”
If you or a loved one served in Afghanistan, we want to hear how you’re processing this moment. What were your first thoughts as you learned that the Taliban seized control of the country, and how do you feel now that American troops are officially out of the country? Share your experience with us by filling out the survey below or e-mailing us at [email protected].
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