I first arrived in Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2009 already a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and entering my third straight calendar year in a warzone. I entered the country and joined America’s other war, Operation Enduring Freedom already entering its eighth year during our surge aimed at eliminating those who opposed a democratic Afghanistan so that we could once and for all stabilize the country. As it turns out, we were not even halfway through America’s involvement in combat operations in the country. The war lasted not only long enough for me to see, it lasted long enough that kindergarteners and fifth graders I taught before joining the Army became old enough to grow up and be able to fight in the same war. Now, nearly twenty years after the war in Afghanistan began, the country has almost completely fallen back into the hands of the Taliban within the span of a week as our armed forces finish their withdrawal from the country. The quick reversal of our gains spur on feelings I’m certain were felt by veterans of the Vietnam War when we pulled out of that conflict. Over the past week, I find myself feeling that we failed the people of Afghanistan that just wanted to live a life without fear of persecution or reprisal.

Yes, the Afghans needed to take ownership of bringing peace and stability to their country and they failed miserably. But, in nearly 20 years did we really do what was necessary to support those who opposed the Taliban?

Twenty years is longer than parents take to raise their children. In this, I can’t help but think about what my wife and I work tirelessly to teach our children. We let our kids know that our job is not to give them everything they want, it’s to prepare them for life in case it becomes a Disney movie. We don’t mean living happily ever after and getting help from fairy god parents. My wife and I look at Disney movies as being extremely hard on the parents, taking them away from their children far too early in life. We strive to make our children self sufficient in case we die earlier in their lives than we would hope so. How do we do this? We hold our children responsible for their actions. We work to teach them to stand on their own. We give them the freedom to fail when we are still nearby and able to provide them a safety net, preventing things from going too well.

No, the people of Afghanistan are not children. But we did strive to help them build a democratic society from the ground up and to stand up a security force that was able to stand up to the Taliban. We equipped them and worked to train them in a controlled environment. But we never stopped hovering so closely that they had to figure out how to handle things. We never encouraged them to stand on their own. We never allowed them to lose a fight or two while staying just close enough to prevent things from going too far South. We made the democratic Afghanistan system and its security force reliant on us. We did not teach them how to stand on their own.

I know there is a lot of backlash on President Biden on the withdrawal and how quickly the government in Afghanistan has followed. But he cannot be solely blamed. In the nearly 20 years we have fought in the country, we have had four presidential administrations (two Republicans and two Democrats), multiple Secretaries of Defense and National Security Advisors, and countless generals and admirals involved in the future of Afghanistan. There is plenty of blame to go around.

When it gets down to the facts of the matter, it is painfully obvious, the democratic experiment in Afghanistan has failed because we failed them. The sacrifices so many have made over the nearly twenty years of the war, the billions of dollars spent, the thousands of American deaths, and the over 12,000 American service members injured in the line of duty in the country feel to be a waste. I am mad and disheartened at the outcome of America’s involvement in Afghanistan. We failed those in Afghanistan who only wanted a peaceful life in their country, because over the span of almost two decades we never prepared them for life when it turned into a Disney movie.

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