Let’s Finally End The War In Afghanistan
I was sitting on the school bus when I learned about the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I was 16 years old.
I signed up for West Point right after — two months later, on my birthday, I got my acceptance letter. I was 17 — my parents had to sign the admission papers because I wasn’t legally an adult yet.
We’ve been in Afghanistan for over 18 years now — longer than I’d been alive when 9/11 happened.
Like many veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’ve poured through The Washington Post’s report on Afghanistan, aptly called The Afghanistan Papers. It opens with this blunt assessment,
“A confidential trove of government documents obtained by The Washington Post reveals that senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.”
After I graduated from West Point, I spent 15 months in Iraq. I showed up as a Lieutenant, and by the time I came home, I was a Captain. Like so many West Pointers I graduated with, I couldn’t wait to go to war. I signed up for West Point to make a difference, and four years of brain-washing at the Academy had me thinking war was my sacred duty. If I didn’t go to war, then I wasn’t a true American patriot.
Fifteen months of war will change your mind quickly about the realities of it. It’s not like what you see in Hollywood.
By the time I arrived to Afghanistan in 2011, I was getting bitter about my time in the Army. We’d been lied to about Iraq, and by 2011, 10 years into the war in Afghanistan, it felt like we were being lied to again.
When I arrived to FOB (Forward Operating Base)Pasab in Afghanistan, I joined my unit, the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, who was already over there.
The first thing I noticed when I arrived on base was this message painted on the concrete walls,
“When they write the history of the war in Afghanistan, they’ll write about the invasion in 2001 and our efforts here — you will be remembered.”
By the time I arrived, we did not understand why they were still there. The writing on the wall let me know we were there to be remembered and to make a name for ourselves — that’s not the reason I signed up.
And that was the sick reality. Ten years into the war in 2011, no one could tell you why we were there. In the months after 9/11, our purpose in Afghanistan was clear, and it’s why I signed up for West Point — to retaliate against those responsible for 9/11 and make sure a similar attack didn’t happen again.
The first day I arrived to Afghanistan, I also noticed a large poster hanging in several locations all around base. The posters read,
“General Petraus’ 27 priorities for Afghanistan…”
Imagine showing up to your company all hands and your CEO rolling out 27 priorities for the company. You’d know the CEO was crazy. 27 priorities!? Might as well have been 2,700 priorities.
For leaders, it was all about making a name for themselves during the 12 or 15 months they were at war. Enough for a colonel to get his promotion to 1-star general, and enough for the 2 or 3-star generals to get another. (I looked up our commanding officer in Afghanistan who was a colonel and he’s now a 1-star general…)
If you ask a colonel or general during war what they want, they will ask for more war. And why wouldn’t they? Asking a general during war what he wants is like asking a two year old if they want more ice cream. But of course.
At West Point, we had classes uplifting the great generals from the Civil War and World War II who made names for themselves. Generals like Lee, Grant, Jackson, MacArthur, Patton, Eisenhower, Pershing. War is where generals make a name for themselves and get written into the history books.
The writing painted on the walls — at the command of our colonel — was evidence to me of that. I’m not sure why we were there, but our colonel was — he and our unit were there to be remembered.
We remember war time generals. From recent wars, generals like Schwartzkopf and Powell. Generals like Petraus, Abizaid, and McCrystal.
Rattle off the names of some peace time generals, if you can?
Fast forward to today. I’ve been out of the Army for 7 years now. I’ve helped build a non-profit supporting 9/11 veterans and now work in tech — and we’re still at war in Afghanistan.
Nearly $1 trillion dollars spent and almost 2,500 lives lost — and no one can give a definitive answer for why we’re still there and what constitutes a victory.
General Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, of course defended the war in Afghanistan after the Post’s investigation,
“I don’t think anybody has died in vain.”
It’s understandable he’ll defend the war — both because of his role as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and because he built his career on the war in Afghanistan. To acknowledge what The Washington Post investigated and found would be to acknowledge part of his role in all of this.
I signed up to fight after 9/11 to serve my country and strike back at the enemy who killed thousands of Americans. I was 16 years old at the time — and now, 18 years later, we’re still in Afghanistan. But 18 years later, we can’t tell you who the enemy is anymore, and we don’t know what winning looks like. The military is good at fighting and winning wars, it’s not good at peacekeeping, building security forces, playing police, trying to instill western values in a country that has no interest in that, and engaging in long, drawn out conflict.
In 2004, Osama Bin Laden posted a video and made the following statement,
“All that we have to do is to send two mujahedeen to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al Qaeda, in order to make generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses without their achieving anything of note other than some benefits for their private corporations”
It’s scary how spot on he was, all the way back in 2004. Let’s bring all of our soldiers home and once and for all end this war.
Andrew is a 2006 graduate of West Point who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.