Ever since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan, many of us have been glued to the headlines, trying to wrap our minds around how this happened: how we lost our longest and costliest war in American history, seemingly overnight.
The sheer weight of the massive failure brought tears to my eyes: the heartbreak facing our Afghanistan veterans and their families, and images of Afghans so desperate to leave that they clung to – and then fell from – a U.S. military airplane.
The heart-wrenching news kept coming, when on August 26th, our relentless enemies sent suicide bombers and gunmen to kill any who dared flock to the Kabul airport to flee. At least 90 Afghans, who dreamed of boarding a plane to America, lost their lives instead.
Thirteen brave U.S. service members were also killed in the blasts that day, making it the deadliest day for our military in a decade. Nearly all were in their early 20s, one an expectant father, and another (pictured) from the St. Louis area. Lance Corporal Jared Schmitz, 20, grew up in Wentzville, Mo. and graduated from Fort Zumwalt South High School. I clearly remember doing live reports from that school for a news story one year. He might have been inside that building at that very moment, a wide eyed teen, dreaming of his future in the military (his father told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he made up his mind early on about joining the U.S. Marine Corps). He graduated high school just two years ago. To say it’s a life cut too short would be deeply understated.
We owe it to the Schmitz family, and every other family who lost a loved one in Afghanistan, to ensure these heroes didn’t die in vain.
If only the question of how this massive failure happened could be answered by pointing the finger at one person. But alas, it’s never that simple. President Trump shouldn’t have agreed to withdraw all American troops by May 2021. President Biden shouldn’t have followed through with it, extending the deadline to August 31, conveniently days before the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. I cringe when I think of the Biden administration dreaming of that picture-perfect PR moment.
Biden is stubbornly standing by his order to withdraw our troops, justifying it by saying that “nation-building” in Afghanistan never made any sense to him.
But to label the freedom our troops brought to Afghanistan as “nation-building” is offensive and condescending. The notion that we shouldn't have brought democracy to Afghanistan assumes that Afghan citizens prefer to be ruled by the Taliban, with very little say and few rights – even fewer if you’re female. Doesn’t every human being want their voice to be heard? To have a say in their future, and that of their children? Does any girl, as young as 13, want to be forced into marriage? Raped? Denied an education?
Our 20 years in Afghanistan weren't for nothing because we gave its people a taste of these basic human rights, the freedom that they deserve. I pray that someday soon they’ll get there again, with or without our help. But I hope it’s with. We need to finish what we started.
Did you know that since World War II, the U.S. has maintained a military presence in Germany and Japan, currently 35,000 troops and 53,000 troops, respectively? We have military bases and a presence all over the world. How hard would it have been to keep some troops in Afghanistan, to keep the peace? That, instead of telling our enemy the exact day we were leaving - with months of notice! It now seems obvious that we rolled out the red carpet for the Taliban’s return.
In the future, if our political leaders realize that the right decision will be an unpopular one, I hope they’ll remember this catastrophe, and won’t be afraid to tell the American people something they don’t want to hear. Of course, no one wants our troops to remain at war in Afghanistan forever. But now we also realize…the alternative is a whole lot worse.