After reading Nick Arama’s wonderful piece regarding the State Department’s after-action review of the Afghanistan withdrawal, I was motivated to give you my personal assessment of the pullout from a combat veteran’s perspective and maybe offer some insight that the American people need to see, but rarely get the opportunity to for various reasons. And thanks to the RedState Team, I am being afforded the opportunity to do just that.
When I was in boot camp at MCRD (Marine Corps Recruit Depot) San Diego in October 2000, our Drill Instructors told us about the bombing of the USS Cole, while in port in Yemen. They told us that we better get ready to go to war because that’s what they were all anticipating. Little did we know that war was indeed coming, just not yet. I hit the Fleet in January 2001 and went about my service like everyone else, shut up and train.
Most of us can remember the dark day of September 11th, 2001, and seeing the carnage and destruction left over from the worst terrorist attacks on American soil in our history. I still remember how I found out. One of our platoon squad leaders ran around the corner of the 3rd deck (that’s the floor for all the civilians) of our barracks and he was yelling, “A f*****g plane just hit the Trade Center!” My roommate had the TV on and he switched it to the news and we both saw the second plane (United Flight 175) go into the South Tower. My entire platoon was watching when President George W. Bush in New York said that he “could hear you, the world can hear you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.” Then on October 7th, 2001, Operation Enduring Freedom officially started and we saw just a few months later in March, the complete defeat of the Taliban.
However, what followed our initial victories was 20 years of counter-insurgency warfare, a series of victories and defeats, the finding and killing of Osama Bin Laden in May 2011, then the slow encroachment of Taliban forces over the next several years, recapturing provinces, until the war officially came to an end with what many Americans looked at as a defeat, or at the very least, a draw. But what I saw at the end was tantamount to a crime against this country’s fighting men and women, and a slap in the face to all those Americans and Afghani allies that fought there.
In the last days of August 2021, I watched the news with intense grief and anger, as did many Americans. Watching the culmination of America’s longest war after 20-plus years of fighting and seeing yet another massive failure of American foreign policy, and the lack of any accountability on the part of the military senior leadership, all the way up to National Command Authority (President Joe Biden). I thought to myself that this was worse than Iraq when we withdrew our forces in December of 2011. I never fought in Afghanistan, but I served two tours in Iraq during the invasion in 2003 and again in 2004 and 2005. My service can be summed up by saying that those were some of the best and worst days of my life, but something that I would do again in a heartbeat. I felt a deep sense of loss and anguish at seeing all the cities and territory that we fought for and won get swallowed up by ISIS over the following years. Then I was blown away at seeing history repeat itself once again. I was reminded of a statement by Sir Winston Churchill in a 1948 speech to the House of Commons, in which he paraphrased Santayana: “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”
I thought to myself that veterans who fought in Afghanistan must be feeling the same way, and I reached out to several of them to say that they didn’t fight for nothing and that their service and sacrifice were not in vain. But I wondered to myself after saying it, “Was it really?” I never thought that I would experience or witness an American withdrawal worse than the way the Vietnam War officially ended with the fall of Saigon in April 1975. But after watching the Afghan pullout live on television, I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears. Not only was it horrifying, but it was also worse than I could imagine. I have never in my lifetime been witness to American forces being needlessly killed in such a haphazard way. My only memory of American forces being denied equipment and support after repeatedly requesting it was during the Blackhawk Down incident in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993.
I asked myself, how in the world did we let that happen? How the hell DOES it happen? I mean, after every war or long-term military engagement, there is an after-action review of the failures and successes of said action. The question that kept going through my mind was, “Did we not learn from Vietnam?” That question still repeats itself to me two years later, and I assume it will never stop. Actually, I know it won’t because I still ask myself the same things about Iraq. I can only imagine how it feels for the Afghanistan veterans. Allow me to break down my personal and professional opinions of that horrendous cluster of withdrawal, from a combat veteran’s viewpoint.
At the beginning of the withdrawal, both current and former military leaders said we should have conducted the pullout from Bagram Airfield. Bagram provided a facility that was easily defendable due to its location away and outside big cities and civilian areas. That means that there is plenty of standoff distance to identify and prosecute deadly threats to the operation. This is arguably one of, if not the most important parts. We didn’t use it because the commanders weren’t allowed to use Bagram. After all, it was “untenable” due to conditions set by President Biden, because he wanted out and he wanted out now.
So instead of being flexible, as every commander needs to be, Biden chose to go forward with an operation at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA), which was surrounded by the city of Kabul. All Biden could do was blame others for setting him up in the situation he created. He repeatedly blamed the previous administration for putting America in this position, but what Americans don’t appreciate and what the leftist media and Democratic party won’t admit, is Biden is the Commander in Chief, the NCA, the “Big Cheese.” He could have just as easily issued countermanding orders to the SecDef (Secretary of Defense) to mobilize as many forces as needed to conduct a Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) at Bagram. Instead, he essentially said, “Trump made me do it.”
HKIA obviously doesn’t have the safeguards that Bagram provided, which immediately made the job ten times harder than it needed to be, which led to the biggest NEO since Vietnam. The worst was yet to come, however, and the troops on the ground, along with innocent Afghan civilians, were going to pay the price for Biden’s complacency and ignorance with their limbs and lives. What we witnessed during those few weeks at the end couldn’t even be described as organized chaos. When you have civilians literally clinging onto the landing gear of C-17s and falling to their deaths from thousands of feet in the air, you have unbridled chaos. It was and continues to be an international embarrassment for us.
Absolute scenes at Kabul airport pic.twitter.com/XsrWBv7zhY— Campbell MacDiarmid (@CampbellMacD) August 16, 2021
Then, on August 26th, 2021, a suicide bomber arrived at HKIA and exploded an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) on his belt. The explosion ripped through a crowd at a Marine Checkpoint called Abbey Gate, killing 11 Marines, 1 Solider, and a Navy Corpsman, along with 169 Afghan civilians.
Dozens more, both military and civilian, were catastrophically wounded, including Marine Scout Sniper, Sergeant Tyler Vargas-Andrews who lost his right arm above the elbow and his left leg. Sgt. Vargas testified before Congress about being denied permission to fire at the suspected bomber because “leadership did not have the engagement authority for us.” His testimony documented several times when they had PosID (positive identification) on the bomber and were actively tracking him, but the chain of command and State Department officials had no clear guidance on the rules of engagement, thus preventing American troops from effectively defending themselves. President Biden couldn’t even be bothered to thank him for his sacrifice while visiting him in the hospital. Biden even tried to shake Sgt. Vargas’ right hand, which he’d lost in the attack. Watch and listen to his words and tell me that your blood doesn’t boil at the end.
Marine Lt. Col Stuart Scheller gave up what was going to be a very promising career when he called out the massive failures of all the military senior leadership and more during the Afghan pullout. He detailed how everyone from the Joint Chiefs, down to CentCom Commanders, all the way down to the ground element commanders failed their troops. They failed their troops by not listening to reliable intelligence on the ground, and by not allowing US forces to extend the perimeter and create a buffer zone around the airport to prevent targeted attacks on the base. Sgt. Vargas even testified to this when he detailed that someone high up ordered the 300-meter buffer that he and his team created for security measures collapsed. He left his post after several hours on watch, comfortable with the buffer zone they created, to doze off for an hour or two. He awoke with the sounds of people yelling and shouting and saw that the buffer zone was gone and people were piling up within 10 meters of his position.
To add insult to injury, Biden and his administration continue to call it a success or to blame Trump and his administration for Biden’s mistakes. Nobody wants to hear the truth when it comes to this. I can honestly say that the Marine Corps and the military as a whole are hurting to this day. All my brothers that are still in tell me they question if they’re going to be next if an operation like Afghanistan ever comes up again. Veterans and active-duty service members alike are still hurting from it.
As a veteran, it causes me serious anger and grief to know that our troops were used and abused in such a way. It is our job to face danger and risk our lives for our country, but all we ask is that we get the full support from our commanders, get accurate and on-time intel, and get clear and concise orders, but most importantly, we need a clear path to victory. The American Military prides itself on having a winning spirit, a strong fighting spirit, and a desire to win at all costs. But Biden used us as a pawn in a losing game of chess, and for that, I can never forgive him – or anyone that defends his inaction.
At the end of the day, I am immensely proud of the service of our fighting men and women. It was an honor and a privilege to have served with some of the best men this nation has produced and an even greater honor to have known such brave men that gave up their lives so that others may live and their memories and faces live on in my dreams. Because we all fought for our country, but we fought for each other too.