Monday marked the 18th anniversary of U.S. troops’ arrival in Afghanistan after 9/11.
I deployed there a decade later.
As Marines, we rarely discussed why we were there, except for being hell-bent on taking the fight to the Taliban, which we did.
Militarily, of course, we won, disrupting enemy supply routes and daring them to come out and fight.
Outgunned, they resorted to planting IEDs on trails and roads, sniping at us from a distance or using explosive-laden vehicles.
We’d capture bomb makers and hold them the maximum time allowed before being forced by rules of engagement to give them to the Afghan police, who promptly released them back into the population to make more bombs to kill Marines.
Whether it was family connections, local influence or “missing” evidence, the corruption was obvious.
After catching the same bomb makers over and over, we couldn’t tell who our real friends were.
The Afghan national government might’ve said they were with us, but the local police, many with blood ties to the Taliban, and the Afghan National Army, although staunchly opposed to Taliban rule, often didn’t get the memo.
During my second deployment the Taliban started coercing children to plant bombs, with the unavoidable result required to stop American deaths: Children sometimes died at the hands of U.S. forces, at the cost of our own seared consciences.
But the assault on American troops’ morality didn’t end there. We were required to work alongside “allied” police chiefs whose tribal culture allowed them to “own” boys as young as 8, who they dressed as females and forcibly, repeatedly, sodomized.
And if we intervened?
“Former Special Forces officer Capt. Dan Quinn, who beat up an Afghan commander for keeping a boy chained to his bed as a sex slave, said … he was relieved of command as a result,” The New York Times reported. “‘We were putting people into power who did things worse than the Taliban,’ said Quinn. … Sgt. 1st Class Charles Martland, a highly decorated Green Beret, was forced out of the military after beating up an Afghan local police commander who was a child rapist. Martland became incensed after the Afghan commander abducted the boy, raped him, then beat up the boy’s mother when she tried to rescue him.”
The payback came when one of these boys — seeing us as allies of his rapist slave master — killed three Marines.
One of those Marines’ father told the Times, “As far as the young boys are concerned, the Marines are allowing (child rape) to happen, so they’re guilty by association. They don’t know our Marines are sick to their stomachs.”
I certainly was, and I don’t speak lightly of these and other tragedies I witnessed.
Yet today, eight years after leaving Afghanistan, the region where I served has returned to Taliban control. And the questions remain:
What is our end goal there? What’s our definition of victory?
Our military objectives were achieved long ago: Al Qaeda in Afghanistan is defeated. Bin Laden is dead.
But given the glaringly obvious futility of expecting U.S. troops to “democratize” or “Westernize” Afghani culture and morality, is it really the intention, in good conscience, of policy makers in Washington — including Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming — to keep American troops there, literally, forever?
No, Rep. Cheney. Hell no.
It’s time we stop deploying American troops to places where not just their lives and limbs, but mental health and moral consciences are the scarred casualties of endless “wars” propping up institutions that don’t reflect our values.
If you agree, please help state Rep. Tyler Lindholm, R-Sundance, and Wyoming Bring Our Troops Home end it. Sign the petition at WYBringOurTroopsHome.com.