Learn from Afghanistan and protect our children from unnecessary wars
Last year, Americans watched in disbelief as the Taliban took control of Kabul, Afghanistan. The following weeks were filled with gruesome images of men and women desperately trying to escape and American soldiers killed in a bombing outside the airport.
My mind immediately went to my son’s service in the military in Afghanistan. I remember being relieved that he had been there many years earlier and was no longer in danger. But I also felt the weight of worry and fear felt by the parents of the soldiers who were still there.
Some would see their children again; others were meeting a flag-draped coffin at Dover Air Force Base. This is the heartbreaking reality of war and our nation’s foreign policy.
As we continue to demand accountability for the management of the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the entire war, we should also call for a change in our entire approach to war, including our leaders’ propensity to lead first military engagement and to use unlimited clearances. for the use of military force instead of getting congressional approval.
For more than 20 years, American military parents have seen our children sent to conflicts in the Middle East and beyond. Sometimes we understand the reasons, and sometimes not. But our children still do their duty.
In the case of Afghanistan, I knew the US military had to get involved, at least initially. The perpetrators of September 11, 2001 and those who harbored them had to be punished. We accomplished what we originally planned to do, although we were long past the missions there. The tragic end of the war testifies to how far our country’s foreign policy has gone in the wrong direction.
In this wrong direction is the war in Iraq. The case for Iraq was weak at best, but played on the raw emotions of a country still reeling from 9/11. There were no vital national interests at stake in Iraq, and our national security was not in jeopardy. The results was more than 4,500 U.S. military personnel killed, thousands more injured, and trillions of dollars expended.
But despite it all, our children have answered the call to serve and have done so with courage and honor even to this day.
The combat mission in Iraq is over in name but not in reality. The troops may not be officially engaged in combat, but they are actively in danger. Every day our troops are on the ground in Iraq is a day when their lives are unnecessarily threatened – sometimes militias which regularly cooperate and are sometimes even supplied by the same Iraqi security forces that our troops are sent to train. It is because our elected leaders at home have not taken responsibility for their military engagement decisions, just as they have for two decades in Afghanistan.
America has an endless war problem. In our foreign policy, we have turned to military engagement as a first resort, and not as a last, as it should be. We charge our brave men and women, including my son, to fight an enemy that is ill-defined and, despite their hostility elsewhere, does not pose a credible threat to us at home.
The lives of service members are in danger because Congress lacks the courage to vote on when to send them into harm’s way, to ask tough questions, or to say “enough is enough.”
A year after the withdrawal from Afghanistan, I am so grateful that our troops are no longer deployed there. I feel bad for those whose children have been taken by withdrawal. I am all the more determined to achieve closure and accountability for them and to ensure that all troops deployed in operations that do not serve a national interest are returned home safely and without delay.
Congress can do its job by learning from the war in Afghanistan as a whole, including the strategic mistakes made in choosing to build a nation and executing the withdrawal. It should apply these lessons to any current or future military engagements we consider.
Our sons and daughters have done the work they were asked to do in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia and beyond. The least we can ask of our elected officials is to honor them by making tough decisions about war and protecting them from unnecessary danger.
Russ Duerstine is executive director of Concerned Veterans for America, an Air Force veteran, and the father of a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
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