US Veterans Share With Sputnik Melange of Emotions as America Exits Afghanistan
WASHINGTON, (Sputnik), Barrington M. Salmon – US veteran Tom Porter said he’s kept a close eye on the war and related activities in Afghanistan since he returned from deployment and became an official in the 425,000-strong Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).
Porter told Sputnik he had just learned of the departure of the last C-17 warplane from the Kabul airport after over two weeks of scurried evacuations following the stunning collapse of the Afghan government and the swift takeover of the country by Taliban forces culminating with the capture of Kabul on August 15.
"It’s kind of a weighty moment," said Porter, IAVA’s executive vice president of government affairs and a Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve with 22 years of reserve and active service. "I feel neither happy nor sad; it’s just a big, weighty moment. For the first time in 20 years, we have no presence there. My biggest concern is that we shouldn't leave anyone behind. I’ve been saying consistently that we need to get our allies out."
Pentagon officials said during a press conference today that the US had flown out more than 122,000 people. And US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said during an address to the nation tonight that "under 200 and likely closer to 100 Americans are still in Afghanistan and want to leave."
© REUTERS / US MARINESU.S. Army soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division check evacuees during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, August 25, 2021.
U.S. Army soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division check evacuees during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, August 25, 2021.
Porter lamented the fatalities suffered during the final phase of the pullout and commended the non-governmental efforts by organizations to evacuate as many people as possible.
"They were days from leaving. It’s so tragic," Porter said of the 15 Marines who were killed in suicide attacks. "The president said we’ll try to get our people out of there but have been some unofficial efforts, amazing work to get our allies out."
Lawrence "Larry" Sewer, a US Virgin Islands native who enlisted in the US Army when he was 19 and retired as a sergeant, told Sputnik that the gravity of the pullout from Afghanistan must not distract from other fronts, such as the havoc wrought on the US mainland by Hurricane Ida. The Category 4 hurricane devastated many parts of Louisiana and Mississippi with fierce winds and flash flooding that destroyed homes and businesses, left 1.1 million residents without electricity.
"Everyone is focused on Afghanistan but there’s a great deal of urgency right here on the mainland," said Sewer. "But Situation 1 and Situation 2 are unfolding. This is an assessment of Biden’s priorities in this matter. We should be concerned with what’s happening here. Louisiana is under siege. Our humanity and integrity demand that we take care of and help those whose lives have been upended by the storm. This is the real war right now. And two more hurricanes are lurking out there."
Frank J. Phillips, a retired US Army major who served for 21 years, said he purposely divorced himself from the news. Although he hadn’t been following all the ins-and-outs of the 20-year war in Afghanistan, news that the last warplanes and US military personnel had departed left him pleased.
"For me as a soldier, even though our business is killing and dying, I’m happy to be getting out," said Phillips, who was with the 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea. "I’m happy for whatever reason. This is a mix of politics and the military. There’s a lot of stuff happening behind the scenes. The level of planning is intense but soldiers, we’re straightforward. We go in and take land. People are secondary. No soldier ever asks for war. We do what we have to do because that’s what we signed up for. Every one of us would like to go through a 20-year career without combat."
The last of the US forces departed Afghanistan in the early hours of August 31, 2021, after 7,268 of warfare in the country. The cost of America's lengthiest conflict: 2,448 US service personnel and 3,846 US military contractors killed – including 13 Marines killed last week in suicide bomb attacks near the airport – and a $2.4 trillion price tag.