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John Byrnes: The war in Afghanistan has gone on so long, it’s outlasted my 22-year military career

American Helicopter Lifting Up

By Concerned Veterans for America

By John Byrnes, CVA Director of Education

On September 11, 2001, I was called to duty.

I still remember clearly, hearing the news that the first plane had hit one of the twin towers, as I sat in a Manhattan classroom. I was only one year into my enlistment, having done a previous four-year stint in the Marines. Before I even heard from my command, I was on my way to my Army National Guard unit’s Midtown armory.  After several frustrating hours, I was deployed to Ground Zero and had my first look at the devastation. Ground Zero was, and still is, the greatest horror I’ve seen.

As I worked 12-hour shifts at the ruins of the World Trade Center supporting the mission to find first survivors and then remains, I looked forward to the US Invasion of Afghanistan for retribution and for a removal of the remaining al-Qaeda threat.  I could not foresee a two-decade war in a desert nation on the other side of the globe.

I deployed to Afghanistan in 2008, with a combat tour in Iraq already under my belt. At that time, our primary mission was to train Afghan security forces. Even then, the military was focusing on nation-building as much as security, and spending US money on local pork projects around Afghanistan.

I spent eight months working with the Afghan National Police, many of whom I called friends.  The Taliban was a brutal adversary, murdering Afghan police and targeting U.S. soldiers from our team. Our best efforts to build up a force that could fight and protect the Afghan people were thwarted at every turn.

I also saw the corruption of a fractured, long-ungoverned nation. Anyone who served in Afghanistan can tell you stories of Afghan police and soldiers taking bribes, shaking down truck drivers, using drugs, and protecting opium and hash growers. My experiences were no different. Often, our training and advice fell on deaf ears. Still, I left the country at the end of 2008 with some hope that we were making progress.

Over a decade later, I know that meaningful progress has not been made.

The Afghan government remains corrupt and fractured. Afghan security forces remain unequal to the task of winning the war. The Taliban and other groups remain embedded in Afghan society and continue to attack and infiltrate Afghan government forces.

All the while, U.S. service members remain in dangerous situations with no clear mission or end goal.

If I had been told in my first year in the Army Guard that war in Afghanistan would outlast my military career, I wouldn’t have believed it. But I’ve since retired and the war continues, as more lives are lost to a cause Americans no longer understand.

I was there on September 11. I know this country had to go to war in Afghanistan, and we were justified in doing so. But we’ve long since accomplished what goals we could and have been spinning our wheels in vain attempts to nation-build ever since.

It’s time for us to re-evaluate our foreign policy so our vital interests are put first. It’s time for us to stop sending our men and women to fight these endless wars.

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