Ten years since combat operations began in Afghanistan, those Americans intimately impacted by a decade of war are split: Should the United States still be there? When should troops come home? How many troops? Was it worth it? What are the war's lasting effects?
Ask Afghanistan veteran Charles Hodges, and he'll say America should stay put: "We should move all of our resources out of Iraq and put those resources into Afghanistan. Afghanistan will not be better off until the entirety of the insurgency is snuffed out." Read more.
Dan Rackley, another veteran who served in the war, says it's time to go: "America's involvement was inherently necessary at the outset, but we don't need to be there anymore. We've said 'mission accomplished' on more things than some can care to remember. But we're still there." Read more.
Yahoo! News asked readers and contributors, especially those directly affected by Afghanistan, to share their first-person perspectives. Below are some stories we've highlighted.
Witnessing the Terrible Toll of 10 Years' Combat: Oct. 7, 2001, officially marked the start of the U.S. military campaign. But Tony Barnes, who served in the U.S. Air Force, remembers jets screaming out of Kuwait the night before. He knew combat had begun: "With very mixed emotions, I left Kuwait that night. Having been at Al Jaber for over a year, I was ready to move to my next assignment in Air Force recruiting. Yet my nation was going to war in rugged, mountainous Afghanistan, long known for conflict. As my troop plane lifted off the runway, the big jet lumbered toward the southwest while fighter pilots streaked northeast toward their targets in Afghanistan. Earlier that day, I had eaten with many of those pilots who were now laying their lives on the line."
Barnes, later retired, advocated for wounded troops once they returned to home soil. It was then when he saw the war's effects: "The toll upon our courageous troops has been incredible. The accounts of horrendous combat carnage sometimes make me close my office door after hearing yet another soldier's story. I pray they will no longer need to go grocery shopping at 2 in the morning to avoid crowds and they will no longer feel a need to travel back roads to avoid busy freeways that can cause excruciating anxiety. I say a prayer that they will find hope for the future and find true joy in the coming days, months and years." Read more.
Saying 'No' to Afghanistan and 'Yes' to Civilian Life: The Marine Corps asked veteran Bethany Heinesh to return to service - and, in effect, to Afghanistan -- following the 9/11 attacks. She turned them down, opting for civilian life. But the Marines whom she trained - as well as two close friends - marched into harm's way. She writes: "I prayed for my friends with fervor: 'God, please bring my girls back unharmed.' Hallelujah -- both of them did come home, but so many others never made it back. Although I haven't confirmed it, I'm sure many of the Marines I supervised were among those who didn't make it home."
Heinesh credits her decision to say "no" to service with saving her life. And she worries the 10-year war has left an inextinguishable mark on her Marines: "My girls came home changed forever. To this day, they say they saw and heard things they can't repeat. It's not because they're not allowed to; it's because they can't verbalize the experience. Seeing limbs fly in the air from IED explosions, watching children strap bombs to their backs for suicide missions, hearing the sounds of war on the horizon as helicopters, tanks and planes blew Afghanistan to bits… these are just a few of the memories my two friends carry with them. Some things you can never forget." Read more.
Fears of a Life-Altering Knock on the Door: It's a nightmare Maggie Ray has had more than once: "The car doors open and men in service dress slowly approach my house. Startled by the vision of what was about to happen, I shake myself awake and try to believe it really was a dream. As a military spouse, the haunting worry of a life-altering knock on the door stays with you throughout the time your partner is deployed." Starting in 2008, Ray's husband, Johnnie, accepted a special-duty assignment with the Air Force. He notifies family members that their loved ones have been lost to war. She's befriended a woman who lost her daughter, Zainah Caye Creamer, in Afghanistan.
She continues: "I'm sure casualty notifications are never easy on either side of the door. For our family, that knock meant a personal connection with a soldier we never met, with a young lady who gave everything in the fight for freedom, and with a mother who didn't expect the man in service dress to deliver such shocking news. While I lived with dreams of what could happen, she now lives with the reality of what the invasion of Afghanistan cost her." Read more.
Afghanistan's Financial Costs Matter Not to Military Families: Military wife Lisa Mason knows critics of the war question its costs. But its true costs can't be measured in dollars and cents, she writes: "The real cost of war is when we see the families next door to us, missing fathers or missing mothers, due to tours in Afghanistan. We see the real cost of war when our children's friends talk about parents that died or were injured overseas in this war. We are reminded of the true cost of war when we think of the friends we have lost because of it.
"As of Aug. 2, 2011, 4,683 brave Americans have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since the launch of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001. My husband was part of a medical battalion and saw firsthand the costs of war. He carries those experiences with him every day and they shape who he is -- both positive and negative." Read more.
Here are more perspectives from readers and contributors: