Local veterans glad to hear troops will leave Afghanistan
Jake Versteeg is not shy about sharing his feelings on the United State’s war in Afghanistan.
To him, the war was originally justified, but became a poorly handled waste of money, time and lives. What had started out as a war to protect America is now regarded as a quagmire of death and loss by those who fought it, and Versteeg is happy to hear it will soon be coming to an end.
“There’s nothing coming out of it anymore,” said Versteeg, 40, who served in Iraq and heads the Phoenix Quick Response Force, a support group for veterans in Idaho Falls.
President Joe Biden announced on April 14 that all U.S. operations in Afghanistan will end on Sept. 11, 20 years after the day the World Trade Center was attacked and nearly 3,000 people were killed.
The United States retaliated by invading Afghanistan after the Taliban, a terrorist organization, refused to turn over members of al-Qaida, the group behind the 9/11 attacks.
The United States succeeded in dismantling al-Qaida’s operation, and capturing Osama bin Laden, the group’s leader, nearly 10 years after 9/11, but struggled with the Taliban. A new government was established in Afghanistan with U.S. support. The U.S. ended combat operations in 2015 but has maintained a troop presence in the country, leading to a stalemate. But U.S. soldiers have continued to be killed in Afghanistan even though the U.S. ended combat operations.
Seventeen service members died there in 2019 — the most in a single year since 2015, The Hill reported. Among those killed that year was U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Dustin Ard, a former Ammon resident. More than 2,200 soldiers have died in Operation Enduring Freedom since its start on Oct. 7, 2001, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
If anything, local veterans are frustrated the pullout wasn’t happening sooner. Dan McKnight, who heads Bring Our Troops Home, an organization in Idaho that has advocated for an end to the war, criticized Biden’s announcement, noting that Former President Donald Trump had wanted to withdraw by May.
“With this violation of the Doha agreement, and the extension of our presence through the summer months — when violence is most prominent — President Biden is putting the safety of our brave servicemembers in mortal peril,” McKnight said in a press release. “If a single American is killed in Afghanistan between May 1 and September 12, the fault will fall squarely on the conscience of Joe Biden.”
Idaho Falls veterans the Post Register spoke to were also not impressed by the symbolism of officially pulling out on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
Elaine Garrison, an Idaho Falls resident who served in the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps, a branch of the British Army, said she felt Biden’s decision was motivated by politics. Versteeg agreed, saying he believed a specific day should not have been set, arguing that setting a specific date told the Taliban how long they need to wait to regain control of the country.
Even so, the veterans are glad to know they’ll soon see the end of America’s longest war.
“I was still a kid (when the war started),” said Versteeg, who was 21 at the time. “Now I’m an old man. I totally supported going after the people who attacked us, but to drag this out for 20 years, for what?”
After the attacks, a sense of patriotism drove thousands of Americans to enlist in the armed forces. After the first few years, however, Garrison said it felt like the troops were “glorified policemen.”
Critics of the decision to withdraw have argued Afghanistan still needs U.S. support to keep the Taliban at bay. However, the veterans the Post Register interviewed were against a long-term commitment by the United States to keep the 2,500 troops currently stationed in the country.
Jesse Williams, who served in Iraq, but not Afghanistan, said that the Afghan military would need to defend itself and that if it could not do so after 20 years, an extended U.S. presence would not change that. Like his fellow Phoenix QRF members, he has little doubt the Afghan government will fall when the U.S. leaves, but he said we should not commit continue to commit to the country.
“We spent so many lives and so much money,” said Williams.
Versteeg, Garrison and Williams all said they believe the war will be a footnote to U.S. history.
“I think … it’s going to be along the lines of Vietnam,” Williams said.
Versteeg noted that since World War II, the U.S. has had a war for every new generation: Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War and the War on Terror.
He said he hopes the lesson learned from Afghanistan will be to avoid such international conflicts and break that trend.
“I’ve been to war, and I don’t want to see my family do that,” Versteeg said.
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