561 empty chairs: Ret. Gen. John Allen on the sacrifices of the Afghanistan war

Martha Raddatz, Richard Coolidge & Jordyn Phelps
Power Players
561 empty chairs: Ret. Gen. John Allen on the sacrifices of the Afghanistan war

On the Radar

Gen. John Allen recently retired from the military following his post as the commander of the International Security Assistance Force, but the memories of the 561 troops who died under his command - and the many thousands who were wounded - have not retired from his mind.

“I think about them every day; I think about them at night,” Allen told On the Radar. “And there's a moment of reflection about those 561 empty chairs around dinner tables.”

He described the war in Afghanistan as “a conflict of sacrifice” and said his focus now is to make sure the country doesn’t forget those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

“That's a generational loss because the family will be different, the children will be different,” he said. “That's why this war is so important for America … because every one of those losses has to mean something.”

During his time as a commander in Afghanistan, Allen attended scores of memorial services, sometimes as often as three times a week. But he said there’s one service that haunts him most of all.

“We had a particular I.E.D. strike, and it killed some magnificent soldiers in one of our engineer units,” Allen said. “The wife of one of the soldiers was in an adjacent unit, and she was with us in that ceremony. And I'll remember her gripping the coffin, the flag-draped coffin, crying his name in the back of the C-130. I'll never forget that, because there was the catastrophe of the loss playing out before our eyes in the belly of that cargo aircraft.”

As the United States and international forces increasingly have taken a support role to the Afghan forces this year, there has also been a surge in militant attacks in the country. Allen said the spike in violence demonstrates that the Taliban’s influence is dwindling.

“I think the Taliban are fighting for their lives right now. We've seen success by the Afghan National Security Forces continue,” Allen said.

“The other thing I think that the Taliban have recognized is that we're not going anywhere,” he added.

Although U.S. and international forces are ending their combat missions in Afghanistan at the end of 2014, Allen said there will continue to be “an international military presence in Afghanistan for a long time.”

“The narrative that the Taliban have continued to pursue is that the international community is abandoning Afghanistan,” he said. “And what they're finding, to their grief, is that that narrative is false.”

Check out this episode of On the Radar for more of the interview with Gen. Allen and to hear the moving story his wife, Kathy, told about the general following a helicopter crash that killed 30 troops.

ABC's Eric Wray, Alexandra Dukakis, Hank Disselkamp, Ginny Vicario, and Mark Banks contributed to this episode.