My phone has been blowing up for about one week straight, because of the news reports coming out of Afghanistan. A lot of people have asked about my thoughts on what is happening right now in Afghanistan as a result of of the projected complete withdrawal of US troops by August 23, 2021. This article is an attempt to answer those questions.
The current situation in Afghanistan has brought up a lot of feelings about my experiences from Black Hawk Down. Keep reading to the end of the article to see some of the similarities between Afghanistan today and Somalia years ago.
Was it worth it?
I have a complex set of emotions watching the news about the rapid Taliban advance and the current evacuation efforts in Afghanistan right now. These emotions are the result of 9 combat deployments to Afghanistan over a period of 10 years. Because I have spent far more time in the country of Afghanistan than any other foreign soil, I care deeply for the country and its future.
I think this is the basic question that most of the people who have been contacting me by phone, or news reporters asking for interviews, have: Anyone alive today recognizes that a lot of blood has been shed on the mountainsides of Afghanistan. I think many people in the United States, NATO countries, and coalition forces are asking the question, was the sacrifice worth it?
This is a one-word answer… YES! Freedom is always worth the cost that it takes to purchase it, even if that freedom only lasts for a brief period. Anyone who has ever lived under a brutal totalitarian government knows the value of freedom. However, those brave warriors who have bled and lost dear friends in the fight for freedom also recognize its value.
Operation Enduring Freedom began as an attempt to secure freedom for humanity against radical, religious terrorism! The United States and coalition forces went to Afghanistan to destroy Al-Qaeda and eliminate its ability to conduct terrorist attacks anywhere in the world. At its basic essence, Operation Enduring Freedom was an attempt to ensure freedom from terrorism that would endure for a generation.
The fact that Al-Qaeda is no longer mentioned in the nightly news and not part of the discussion about the future of Afghanistan demonstrates the tactical victory of this military operation. Enduring Freedom was not only conducted to bring freedom to the people of Afghanistan, but it was also an attempt to bring freedom from terrorism to people throughout the world.
An added benefit of this military operation is that it provided freedom for the people of Afghanistan that they had not known for generations. Women were allowed to assemble in public. Little girls were permitted to go to school. People were allowed to dance, celebrate publicly, and listen to music again. None of this was possible during the brutal regime of the Taliban from 1996 to 2001. The United States and coalition forces gave this freedom to the people of Afghanistan as an added benefit of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Freedom, no matter how short lived, is always worth the sacrifice of money and human lives. The idiots in the popular media that are criticizing the number of warriors that were lost in Afghanistan don’t have a healthy understanding of the value of their own freedom. Anyone who ever loses thier freedom, even temporarily, would learn the true value of freedom.
The fact that these pundits live in a country that allows them the freedom of speech and freedom of the press to print these myopic reports demonstrates they don’t have a healthy respect for their own freedoms. So, I don’t get upset by headlines that showcase the ignorance of a free press when it criticizes the sacrifice that their very freedom requires.
Let me say this again. Freedom (your freedom from terrorism and an Afghani girl’s basic human rights) are worth any sacrifice! Even if the freedom from Operation Enduring Freedom didn’t “endure” in Afghanistan as long as I would’ve liked… It was worth it!
Would I do it again?
I had to wrestle with a question like this first-hand about 10 years ago when I returned to Somalia. The political decisions that President Clinton’s administration made immediately after the battle that became known as Black Hawk Down is the most disappointing and degrading moment of my career in the US Army.
I struggled to find words to describe my emotions as my civilian airplane touched down at Mogadishu International Airport. When I departed the airplane that day, I was standing just a few meters away from the blood and bullet holes where the ground forces of Task Force Ranger staged our missions in Somalia. In fact, the building that housed our Joint Operations Center was the first thing I saw after stepping off the airplane the moment I returned to Somalia.
I had realistic expectations of the current political climate and the living conditions in Somalia when I returned to the sight of our battle in 2013. At the same time, I had hope that the people of Somalia would be slightly better off 20 years later.
Unfortunately, because of the brutal terrorist regime that controlled people through the use of fear and violence, Mogadishu, Somalia was a worse place to live during my second trip than my first (something that I didn’t think was possible).
I shared my thoughts with the world as documentary crews followed me and my friend, Keni Thomas, through the streets of Mogadishu 20 years after Black Hawk Down. 20 years of time can help put a lot of things into perspective. I felt today about Afghanistan the same combination of emotions that I felt about Somalia.
I wish things were different for the people of Afghanistan. I had hoped that the blood that was spilled in Somalia would make life different for future generations of Somalis. It didn’t.
Perhaps this was due to the cowardly way that the Clinton Administration withdrew troops from Somalia after one bloody battle. However, I will also admit that without a willingness to fight to protect their freedoms, Somalia might have descended into chaos at the hands of lawless men, no matter the conditions for the withdrawal of US troops.
I ask you, Reader, to keep this in mind as news agencies around the world politicize the withdrawal of US troops and coalition forces from Afghanistan. Major media outlets have hit the jackpot with the sensational images and selective reporting about what led to the current conditions in Afghanistan.
It’s easy to critique the abrupt decision to remove US troops from Afghanistan by President Biden as creating the current conditions in the country. However, that’s not a full picture of the security situation in Afghanistan.
In an interview last night, I told reporters that given how quickly Afghanistan government and military leaders have conceded the country to the Taliban, I don’t think the timing for the United States’ full withdrawal from Afghanistan would have changed what we are seeing on the news.
Given the speed of advance and complete freedom the Taliban are having in Afghanistan right now, I’m convinced it wouldn’t make a difference if the US left 10 years earlier or stayed for 10 years longer.
The world is watching Afghanistan’s unwillingness to fight to preserve the freedoms that were purchased for them with US and coalition blood. The world is also seeing the will of the Afghanistan people. If the people of Afghanistan didn’t want Taliban rule, they would do something right now to stop or slow the Taliban advance.
It’s heartbreaking for all of those young women in Afghanistan who have lost the hard-won freedoms under the US and United Nation’s leadership in a matter of days. I wish things would be different for the girls in Afghanistan 10 years from now than they were for Malala Yousafzia when she was shot in the head by the Taliban for demanding an opportunity to go to school just like her brother. I pray that the girls living in Afghanistan don’t have to grow up under those brutal conditions.
And this brings me to the question that I set out to answer by this article: Knowing what I now see on the nightly news about the swift fall of Afghanistan into the hands of the Taliban, would I go through all of those many months of danger and suffering in Afghanistan again? YES! Without hesitation!
Even if I knew 20 years ago, during my first deployment to Afghanistan, that the country would descend into what we’re seeing in the global news, I would repeat all those deployments and the combat missions all over again.
I would do it for your freedom from terrorism and for the freedom of the Afghanistan people- however brief that freedom might be.