Veteran: When I came 真人百家家乐官网网站home from Afghanistan, everyone wanted to know, 'Was it worth it?'
This war has raged longer than some of the Americans fighting in it have been alive. When the troops come 真人百家家乐官网网站home, we'll have to face that.
In this period of news about post-election lawsuits, Rudy Giuliani’s melting hairline and the promise of forthcoming COVID-19 vaccines, President Donald Trump’s announcement last month about graveyard of empires,” where foreign armies dating to the days of Alexander the Great faced embarrassing struggles and defeats. Nearly two centuries since a Quaker adventurer named Josiah Harlan became the first known American to step foot in the country, the president’s announcement hailed the end of a war that has been waged longer than some of those fighting it have been alive.
As an American, I’m sympathetic to the outgoing president’s desire to wind down our presence in Afghanistan, at a cost of several thousand deaths and trillions of questionably spent taxpayer dollars, often mismanaged.
Even so, as one of the nearly 800,000 U.S. service members who served in Afghanistan, I hope my fellow veterans and countrymen will reflect with pride on our service there, regardless of the shifting political tides that find us following the exit paths paved by British and Soviet forces from past centuries.
Simple question, complicated answer
In the summer of 2009, I was one of several thousand Marines taking part in Operation Khanjar (meaning “strike of the sword”). We were tasked with driving out insurgents who had made the Helmand province a hotbed of violence and a key transit zone for heroin and weapons smuggling. At first, we were almost certain to get into a gunfight every time we stepped outside the wire. We were Marines, so we didn’t mind all that much.
Within months of our arrival, though, we had turned many of the formerly lawless districts in Helmand province into examples of progress and promise. Teachers returned to work. Health clinics began routinely treating patients. Government officials held regular meetings to discuss infrastructure projects, resolve local grievances and plan long-term initiatives for their communities.
Why are our troops still there?: When I was deployed to Iraq at Christmas, the fight might have been worth it. But now?
I’ve often been asked whether my service in Afghanistan was worth it, even before Trump’s announcement. It’s a simple question that has no simple answer. It’s not my place to speak for the families of the Marines who were killed or wounded in Afghanistan whether it was worth it. But I can say to them that the service of their loved ones mattered and made a difference.
Ask the Afghans
When I reflect on whether it was worth it, I remember the many Afghans who smiled at their image emerging from a Polaroid snapshot. For many, it was likely the only picture they’d ever had of themselves. I carried that camera with me everywhere then.
I think of Ishmael, whose parents and other family were killed by a bomb our allies dropped on their family compound before Marines arrived in the district and who had every reason to hate us. He did not, and instead would come to our patrol base to ask the Marines for some English lessons.
I remember all the Mohameds I met, Afghans ranging from infants to ancients, as well as the Abdullahs and Saeds who invited me to tea and enjoy freshly cooked goat. I remember the widow who cried tears of joy when Marines gave her enough rice, beans and cooking oil to last her and her children for a month.
I smile when I recall a conversation with Haji Mohammed Hajem, who brought his family and all the belongings they could pile into a trailer towed behind a tractor back to the district where I deployed after he had fled the district 18 months before Marines made his 真人百家家乐官网网站home safe enough to return.
And I recall a giant of a man named Haji Abdul Ghafar, who embraced me in his huge arms after I gave him a Pashto-language Quran and a prayer rug. He looked me in the eye and said in halting English, “You are good men. I will pray for you as long as I live.”
I hope I speak for the Marines I deployed with, as well as the thousands of other Afghanistan War veterans, that our service mattered and made a difference when it was our turn to fight. No policy decision — by this president or the next one — can take that honor from us.
Former Marine Capt. Frank Biggio is the of "The Wolves of Helmand: A View from Inside the Den of Modern War."