Local Afghan war vets left questioning, disheartened

·3 min read

Aug. 27—ANDERSON — The U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, which led to a Taliban takeover and Thursday's deadly bombing at Kabul's airport, left Army veteran Austin Preston wondering what it was all for.

"None of it makes sense," said the Anderson resident.

Preston spent more than a year in Afghanistan from 2012-2013 when he was, in his words, just a 19-year-old kid with a gun.

"I lost two really good friends. We lost our commander," he said. "I'm just trying to figure out what we did all that stuff for."

Preston was 9 when the Afghanistan war began. Ten years later, he deployed there himself.

"You're over there, and you have such a big sense of purpose and pride," he said. "Eight years later, I feel it was completely useless."

One of Preston's vivid memories of his time in combat was his tent getting destroyed by enemy fire, resulting in the loss of several pieces of equipment.

"I got charged for a sleeping bag I didn't turn in, and we just left these guys with airplanes and drones," he said. "Now we're supposed to go back over and do what?"

Although he is highly disappointed in President Biden's handling of the troop withdrawal, Preston considers himself nonpolitical.

"I don't care if you're Democrat or Republican, as long as you can get in there and do the job the right way," he said. "Maybe if the country just had somebody with an attitude like Trump but eloquent like Obama, then maybe we'd be in business."

Anderson resident Tony Smith, a member of the National Guard who served in Afghanistan from 2004-2005, said he and his buddies have been watching the developments and messaging back and forth about them over the past couple of weeks.

"It's disheartening. Everyone thought we should have gotten out," he said. "But we should have had a better coordinated exit strategy over three or four years."

It was clear there would be trouble as the Taliban tried to regain power, Smith said.

"Everybody said we don't need another Saigon, but it seems like that is exactly what was delivered," he said, referring to the U.S. military withdrawal four decades ago at the end of the Vietnam War.

The withdrawal of the U.S. troops in Afghanistan could have been better planned and not so rushed, Smith said.

"The writing has been on the walls for months, and it seems like they could have done a lot better with it," he said. "Why weren't we doing this in April?"

Though it happened more quickly than anticipated, Smith said it always was understood that the Taliban would attempt to regain power as they made their way from Kandahar in the south to the capital, Kabul. He said he was equally concerned about the safety of Afghan allies, including interpreters embedded with the troops, U.S. civilians and military.

Smith said one problem he saw was that many civilians should have registered with the U.S. State Department once they arrived in Afghanistan so they could be found in case of emergency, but many didn't.

The crowds at the airport also could have been handled better, Smith said.

"They should have been putting up tents and housing people in the hangars."

Iraqi War veteran Nicole Schuyler Kapuscinski, like some other veterans, had tried to avoid watching the news about the withdrawal to prevent triggering her post-traumatic stress syndrome. But over the past couple of weeks, she said, it's been difficult to avoid.

"I knew it was getting bad when I saw the guy fall from the plane."

Kapuscinski said for her it was not at all political, and she doesn't believe the events that are unfolding are President Biden's fault.

"I'm hurting for the people. If that is how it's going to start, it's going to get pretty bad," she said. "I don't think any of us thought it would have to get to where it got today with the Marines dying."

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