soldier--Ehlinger

With the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks upon us, and as we all watch the disaster of the withdrawal from Afghanistan and its aftermath unfold, it is time to reflect somberly on the war, and render a salute to all those brave heroes who fought in our nation’s longest war.

As a former Airborne and Air Assault Infantryman who served in one of the first units to fight in Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the initial phases of the war in 2001-2002, I can tell you that the morale on the ground back then was high. We as a nation were fully dedicated to unequivocally defeating the terrorists.

Over ninety percent of Americans favored military action in Afghanistan directly after 9/11. In late 2001, a lightning campaign of devastating precision airstrikes and ground operations quickly toppled the Taliban as a governing entity and shook Afghanistan to its core. We completed all objectives except one, when Osama Bin Laden escaped to Pakistan and wouldn’t face justice for another ten years.

When my unit left Afghanistan in 2002, I thought the military might be over there another year, but not longer at the pace we were handling things in those early days. How wrong I was. Later I would discover that the Europeans and other allies were growing weary of our massive airstrikes, so we gave in and headed down the road of limited engagements, nation building and oblivion, to maintain international support.

Letting up in those early days of the war was the biggest mistake made. The United States Military should have been allowed to finish the job in 2002, and leave Afghanistan no later than December 31, 2002. Had we done that, it would have left many servicemen and women alive, and spared a lot of families a lot of pain and suffering.

Throughout the last 20 years, I have paid close attention to the situation on the ground in Afghanistan, but even by 2004 I knew that there would be no end in sight anytime soon, and I knew that the time would eventually come where we would leave embarrassed and shamed because the gutless politicians didn’t have the courage to allow the military to do its job.

I am left almost speechless as I analyze the decisions made by the current administration regarding the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Much of this disaster was completely avoidable. Comparisons of the withdrawal from Afghanistan have been made to the fall of Saigon, but it has become worse than that. Many mainstream news sources have been dubbing it a ‘Digital Dunkirk’.

In recent days and weeks, the reputation of the United States on the international stage has been tarnished, and will continue to be tarnished for decades to come. As a Veteran who knew and knows many of those who never returned home to their families, or returned wounded, I am absolutely disgusted that the Taliban is back in control, more powerful than ever.

I was in favor of ending this war for years, but the manner in which it was done could not have been handled more incompetently. Americans and other allies, including many women who currently face untold misery under the Taliban, were left behind. With no military or intelligence assets on the ground, the situation appears to be devolving into a hostage crisis that the Taliban will undoubtedly exploit to its maximum benefit, causing our country yet even more embarrassment.

Now that the War in Afghanistan has ended, we have over 7,500 dead non Afghan coalition soldiers and civilian operators, and over 40,000 wounded from this debacle. For those Gold Star Families who lost loved ones in this war, and those families who lost loved ones on 9/11, I am deeply saddened by your loss, and every loss incurred by our great military and first responders.

Before this war fades away into the history books, I would like to thank all of the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, Central Intelligence Agency Operators, and civilian contractors who bravely fought in Afghanistan. It was a difficult mission, and you had the guts to answer the call. It’s been a long war, and it’s been a tough war for all who fought. You have fought bravely and proudly for your country, and I am proud to have served with each and every one of you. Your service was always honorable. You all deserve to live long and happy lives in peace, so make sure that you do. I salute you. May God bless you all.

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