As I’ve watched the news from Afghanistan over the last few days, I have felt a great deal of sadness and had to fight off the creeping sense of defeat.
As an Army veteran who served multiple deployments in Afghanistan, watching the Taliban sweep through cities and towns I know firsthand has felt like a gut punch. I know many of my fellow veterans are feeling the same way as the evil we battled for years spreads rapidly across the country.
This is not the way I wanted our nation’s time in Afghanistan to end. But I’m still confident that withdrawing our troops was and is the right decision.
Nation building in Afghanistan failed
During my deployments, I saw the long, slow nation-building efforts in Afghanistan fail to take root. In 2009, my unit lost 40 soldiers and saw another 300 wounded, and even two subsequent deployments later I continued to see the inevitable collapse that approached.
I saw with my own eyes the efforts to build infrastructure and an economy with a complete lack of understanding as to what the Afghan people wanted or needed, like repeated projects to install solar panels to power highway lights, only to see them disappear, end up in people’s homes or businesses, be replaced, and disappear again.
I witnessed too many examples of waste and fraud to recall them all.
If I had any doubts about our mission, they were amplified seeing the mental health crisis crippling the transition out of the military for many friends, some who didn’t survive it.
In 2019, when an explosive report uncovered years of lies and coverup from the Pentagon, I was unsurprised. Quotes including “we were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan – we didn’t know what we were doing,” “every data point was altered to present the best picture possible,” and “I have no visibility into who the bad guys are,” found in interviews and correspondents from senior military leaders, are indicative of the U.S. experience in Afghanistan.
Our military quickly lost its way after accomplishing our original goals of decimating al-Qaida and punishing the Taliban for harboring them. But our leaders continued to come up with new missions for our troops, all while telling the American people things were going well and as expected.
Enough lives and resources are lost
Now that we’ve seen the Taliban take over Kabul and the Afghan government fall like a house of cards, I think we can all agree things were not going well.
The truth is our country spent a significant amount of time, trillions of dollars, and thousands of lives in Afghanistan. Those resources were all mainly spent on efforts that did and do not make us safer here at home.
The pundits and “experts” and masterminds of the Global War on Terror will tell you that what we’ve seen happen in the last several days is exactly why we need to keep troops in Afghanistan. They are using the evolving situation as evidence the U.S. was holding the country together and must therefore stay to continue doing so.
They will try to save face and cover their own failed rhetoric and decisions with this “proof” that troops must continue to battle for Afghanistan.
The opposite is true. Sending more troops to Afghanistan would only cause the United States to lose more money, more resources and more lives in a fight that we were never going to win. It would put a target on the backs of our warfighters as the Taliban ended their truce with U.S. forces and resumed attacks.
When 20 years of work crumbles in a matter of days and weeks, the prudent answer is not to send more resources. Rather, it should mean a harsh look back at what went wrong, and quickly getting remaining troops out of harm’s way so as not to run up the casualties any further. What limited interests we do have in Afghanistan can be seen to without a ground presence.
Americans are tired of the deceit and the waste. Polling is consistently showing that the vast majority of Americans support withdrawal from Afghanistan. We know what’s happening there, and we know we’ve done all we can do.
I had my boots on the ground in Afghanistan. I saw with my own eyes how the mission creep and unattainable goals played out. I watched my brothers and sisters in uniform pay the price with their lives, bodies and minds. We did our jobs, serving honorably and courageously. Now is the time for our leaders to resoundingly remind and reinforce to our community that this was a policy failure, not a failure of our effort or sacrifice.
But the cost is not worth a war with no clear national security interests. Our foreign policy should be focused on what is best for us as a nation. And what is best for us in Afghanistan is to get out, not to stay put so that we can lose more slowly.
Sam Rogers is a coalitions director with Concerned Veterans for America in Wisconsin and an Army veteran of the war in Afghanistan.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Staying in Afghanistan was too costly: Biden was right to pull us out