A Marine Looks Back at His Battles in Afghanistan

In February 2010, in the Taliban sanctuary of Marja, we were fighting to let Afghanistan build a democracy. Or something like that.

Comments: 204

  1. There are reasons the US isn't exactly winning in Afghanistan and these parallel Vietnam. Gains in a guerilla conflict aren't easily measurable In WWII the plan was to land in Normandy, march to Paris, cross the Rhine, before moving on to Berlin. In the Korean War - a conventional conflict - the plan was to land at Incheon, move to Seoul, capture Pyongyang and reach the Yalu. However, such territorial gains don't occur in a guerilla conflict. Guerillas seek to wear their enemy down slowly to make up for a disparity in firepower. They avert head-on attacks and are selective in choosing battles. Many US Army patrols in Vietnam wandered the jungle for weeks only to encounter no one. After the Battle of Hamburger Hill in Vietnam, US forces abandoned some captured peaks believing enemy resistance had either been destroyed or fled. Within 3 weeks the NVA slowly creeped in again. Etched on a tree trunk near the battle site were the words: "Was it worth it?" Today, a third of districts in Afghanistan are directly controlled by the Taliban and another third are being contested by it. Can the US keep fighting battles only to have the Taliban seep in again after a while. Unless it has a strategy which works, it would be futile to keep pumping resources to a hopeless cause. Offensives in these districts may only rid them of the Taliban temporarily. The US should work with regional partners and increase the capacity of local Afghan forces.

  2. Hey man, I'm not a veteran, but please know you aren't alone in horror as we watch this war drag on endlessly. Not all of us have forgotten. Thank you for sharing your experience and for being willing to put your life on the line for your brothers and sisters. I was a 1st grader when I sat in the living room watching the towers fall over and over, while my mom cried on the phone. I woke up and my dad was a pilot who flew cool planes. I went to bed afraid he would be killed. My dad was deployed in Oct '01 and ended his last (7th) combat tour in Jul '09. I still have the occasional flashback to the childhood nightmares of my father's imagined death. Now, my little brother graduates from USAFA (in the same squadron my dad was as a cadet in '87) this spring and could end up in the same place. It's absolutely horrific to have to return to the same dark, sad thoughts that plagued my childhood as I thought about my father at war, but now for my little brother. This needs to end.

  3. November, 1965... “I think the thing that is new, [is] this pogo-type concept, where we leap into an area, start a fight, finish it up to the best of our ability, and then jump over and latch on to another chunk of the enemy and chew him up. You couldn’t get into this area on the ground, you just couldn’t make it, and you couldn’t resupply. You had to have helicopters to support what we’ve been doing. The basic mission of any military force is to destroy the enemy or his will to fight, and it’s been our tradition since we were tied to the ground to translate that into terms of ground objectives. But that was never the real purpose; that just helps you achieve the end. Here we can free ourselves of those ground considerations and go more directly for the enemy wherever he may be.” - Brigadier General Richard T. Knowles, USA, Assistant Division Commander, First Air Cavalry Division, interviewed by Morley Safer, CBS News, November 1965 in the Ia Drang Valley, South Vietnam https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfBLUOSNryc (Knowles’ remarks begin at 8:10) Lieutenant General Knowles retired from the Army in 1974 and died in 2013. After almost 18 years in Afghanistan, where the United States has practiced “this pogo-type concept” of maneuver warfare, the results are plain to see – even if you’re not interested in looking.

  4. Thank you, Croporal Gibbons-Neff, for what you and your friends did and sacrificed on our behalf, and for the truth you tell here.

  5. @withfeathers What exactly did he do on our behalf?

  6. Google "graveyard of empires". There is no victory for an Afghan outsider.

  7. @HapinOregon "Graveyard of Empires" is an extremely popular but blatantly false cliche about Afghanistan. Afghanistan has been conquered by at least a dozen foreign empires during its history, beginning with the Persian Achaemenid Empire. Alexander the Great easily conquered Afghanistan, and his Greek successors ruled southern Afghanistan for about 25 years until they ceded it to the Indian Mauryan Empire as part of peace negotiations, and the Greeks continued to rule northern Afghanistan for 200 years. I don't know where this graveyard myth arose, perhaps the British invented it to justify their difficulties with bringing Pashtun tribesman in Pakistan under direct rule, and it may have gained popularity due to the Soviet failure in Afghanistan?

  8. @Allan Langland Many may have "conquered" Afghanistan, but no one really controlled it.

  9. @HapinOregon Sorry, your assertion is contrary to historical fact. I suggest that you read Thomas Barfield's book "Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History," especially the first half of Chapter Two that is titled Conquering and Ruling Premodern Afghanistan.

  10. What has happened in Afghanistan is what always happens in colonial situations. The American presence is counterproductive. The large wealth difference results in a corrupt national government that owes its very existence to the foreign occupier. As the Americans work hard to create the necessary conditions to leave the national government works to prevent those conditions from ever being achieved so that the occupier can't leave and so they can stay in power. It's the dilemma of all foreign occupiers throughout history.

  11. I remember how outraged I felt in the first Iraq invasion that President HW Bush never “finished the job”, but just ended the war after an arbitrary 100 days, saying our mission had been accomplished, then pulled out. In hindsight it was an incredibly wise move. Too bad his son and the following presidents have not been so wise.

  12. " We didn’t understand the Afghans. They mostly hated us for destroying their homes, accidentally killing them and showing up in helicopters and telling them to respect a government in Kabul that they cared little about." Rewind the tapestry of history and this statement (absent "helicopters") would be applicable to Roman legionnaires in Britannia, Germania, Hispania or northern Africa. Pick any year during the ill-named "Pax Romana," or for that matter, "Pax Britannia," and you will find Roman, or British soldiers, dying for nothing in particular in some place their fellow citizens could not find on a map. We are doing what every empire has always done, including pushing destructively foolish policies to the point where those empires collapse of their own weight or corruption or simply exhaustion.

  13. @Jason Shapiro The British Empire lost multiple times in Afghanistan at the peak of it's Victorian era power and influence. The British Empire lost multiple times to the Asante Empire during the same era.

  14. Well said.

  15. @Jason Shapiro One lesson: Do Not Colonize. The chain reaction blowback is impossible to predict and colonization is wrong. Too late, isn't it?

  16. I was a medic in Quang Tri and Da Nang in 1968 and 1969. I joined the Navy thinking it was safer than any other choice. Didn't know the Navy corpsman were medics for the Marines. I was young and believed we had to stop the communist in Asia or we would be fighting them in California. I was in country for perhaps a month before I realized I could get killed. It took another couple of months to realize I had no clue what we were doing in Vietnam and that these people would settle their differences if we were not there and with a lot less bloodshed. The government has had us in these little unethical wars my entire life. As Tulsa Gabbard has frequently stated we need to end these forever wars. She is a veteran and knows of what she speaks. These wars waste our national treasure of money and young lives. Think of how many friends in the world we would have if we had poured our money into positive aid rather than a sick military industrial complex that kills and spreads destruction. Will we never learn and will the American people finally put an end to this madness. We need to do it now because we are indeed now facing a merciless enemy--climate change. We will need some friends to help us with this enemy.

  17. @hd, I live in the San Diego area and any time a new contract for some type of military contract is announced for the area it's a big deal in the paper and on the news. How do we wean ourselves from huge military build ups and numerous military bases in every state when contracts mean so much money to local areas?

  18. @hd: It is difficult for Americans to accept, but if we had not meddled in in the Middle East in struggles between the rival religious zealots, there would have been no 9/11 and no US troops sent to either Afghanistan or Iraq. The parallel to Vietman is a good one. If we had not meddled there in a Vietnamese domestic conflict, no American troops would have suffered and died there. Will we never learn?

  19. @jim I am familiar with the San Diego and went to school at UCSD after Vietnam and getting out of the military. San Diego is a wonderful place to live and I'd like to see us pour the military money into innovative technologies like work on AI at UCSD or funds into all the bio-pharmaceutical start ups in the area. I can think of bridges and road ways for the East Coast. Not as many infrastructure projects come to mind for the West Coast. I'm sure you can think of lots since you live there. We also need to pour money into alternative energies for the sake of our planet. High speed equivalent of BART for San Diego. Cut back on those freeways.

  20. Technology and F-22s do not help in winning a guerilla conflict as guerilla conflict is intself designed to overcome a technologically superior enemy. So the answer can't simply be more predator drones patrolling the Af-Pak border. That didn't work under the Obama administration. And it won't work now. There also needs to be a re-evaluation of how objectives are being met in guerilla conflicts. In Vietnam, one off the objectives was to "destroy" the Ho Chi Minh Trail - the route used by the North Vietnamese to funnel materiel through Laos and Cambodia into South Vietnam. The trail - or its presumed whereabouts - was subject to heavy bombing for years, with little result. When I come to think of it, I wonder if a trail is even a physical object that it can be destroyed. In truth, the Ho Chi Minh was just a path the North Vietnamese followed, not an object. There was no way of telling where this path lay under such dense foliage. As thousands of bombs were dropped, the North Vietnamese simply side-stepped the bomb craters and continued transporting supplies southward. If bombs hit the North Vietnamese, it was by chance, not because they were known to be there at the time.

  21. The reality is that the people of Afghanistan are, more or less, the Taliban. We cant change that in 20 years. Maybe 100. Our government in a box that exists in Kabul derives no loyalty from most people. Its value is in distributing foreign aid. There is a way to win, really there is. It's called Iran. Iran and Pakistan can actually harness the power of Afghanistan because they are culturally similar. But since we wont partner with Iran even when it's good for us, the cause it lost.

  22. @Joe The people of Afghanistan are not culturally monolithic, are made up of disparate groups and sects, and have a 3,000 year history of throwing out invaders. Iran and Pakistan are not culturally similar, Iranians are ethnically different and Shia, Pakistanis are Arabs and Sunni.

  23. @Ernest Montague The point is not that they are monolithic. It's that that are closer to the Taliban than they are to us and are closer to Iran and Pakistan than other countries. The bottom line being that America and Europe cant fix Afghanistan and get rid of the Taliban. The Taliban isn't going away and those who can. Est deal with them are Iran and Pakistan.

  24. @Ernest MontagueYou are right on Iran but where did you get your info on Pakistan?

  25. Another American serviceman was killed in Afghanistan today, the seventeenth this year. One of the first things trump did as president was to cut aid to Pakistan. The laws of physics apllied.

  26. @King Philip, His majesty. Pakistan is a narco-terrorist state funding extremism in Afghanistan and India. Whether you give them a billions $ are not doesn't matter. They have long been involved in killing US troops in Afghanistan, while begging the American public for money. Trump was 100% right in cutting them off. I'm not a fan but he got this one right.

  27. the taliban had opium under control before the u.s. invaded 18 years ago. now we have a heroin epidemic. there's too much money in war for the u.s. to ever give it up.

  28. @cp If I recall correctly, the opium produced in Afghanistan is traded mostly with Chinese with some staying in Afghanistan - lots of severely addicted people - self-medicating. I recommend that you search for and read online for "Brookings Institute Afghan's Opium Production". This addresses your comment precisely.

  29. Billions of dollars. Hundreds of dead. Thousands permanently mentally scarred all to extend the unwinnable war on drugs to an overseas country that wasn't willing to take bribes to oppress their own citizens to satisfy the christacrats desire to use tax money to impose their religious beliefs on Americans. All to help the National Socialists expand the surveillance and unconstitutional civil forfeiture laws and create an ever larger unionized prison work force to shake down for campaign contributions.

  30. You blame the left for war? You really need to read some history. BTW, Bernie Sanders, a Democratic Socialist, voted against the Iraq War. All the R’s voted with the Bush/Cheney warmongers to go.

  31. @Blank Ballot your "reply" makes no sense. It is as if you have your own ideas and want to send them out into a space they don't belong. Christacrats? National Socialists? Create larger unionized prison work force? I have a suspicion that you have been or are in the military. Your efforts were not for nothing. I wish you the best

  32. @Sue Salvesen Right, Susan, and of the army of Righties eager for war, so very many of them were draft dodgers, in one form or another. And now we have Cadet Bonespur leading us.

  33. Somebody tell me, why are we still there? Do we really think we can win the "hearts and minds" of the Afghans after we have done our best to create conflict when the Russians were there, and then to invade a country with questionable goals, and remain there for over twenty years? I have watched a number of programs of our troops fighting useless battles, living in hardened camps, with the obvious being that the Afghans do not want us there. I am an adult and I know there are reasons we remain there which go beyond fighting the Taliban. We cannot come up with enough money to pave our roads and run our schools, but there does not seem to be any limits to the amount of money we have spent trying to "democratize" a land that does not want our help. Let's end this debacle. Let's stop killing our children to protect the money interests.

  34. @Annie Amen

  35. A cohesive narrative for our children to read? We may have learned it was a mistake to build our military bases overseas in places that the local religious people consider holy and sacred. But we haven't learned not to get baited in to wars overseas that can not be won. The kids will have to work on that one.

  36. The people who start wars never fight them. Most have never even been in the service, or worse, they used their wealth and privilege to evade it. No wonder there is such a great mental and emotional disconnect between those who promote wars, and those who actually have to fight them. And then, when their tours are over, these soldiers come home, and are quickly forgotten by the same people who sent them. Then, on the 4th of July, around election time, or perhaps even for Sunday night football, they are trotted out once more, in the service, not of what they did and sacrificed, but in service of those who use them for their own benefit. Soldiers are unique people. It's not everyone who will willingly march up a hill knowing the vast majority of them won't be coming back down. And I find it as incredible as it is despicable that they are so often put in harms way, not because they have to be, but because it plays into the petty egos and political machinations of those who have been entrusted with the power to do so. A power which has been almost universally abused since the end of WWII. If someone has to use convoluted and abstract arguments in order to try and explain to you why we are sending these people off to war, there is a 99.99% probability that they probably shouldn't be going in the first place. Without absolute moral clarity, wars are nothing but an exercise in wanton and needless destruction. And that's true for both sides of the conflict. Not just yours.

  37. Then how do we resolve such issues/disputes? Do we do nothing, ignore it, and just see how things play out?

  38. @Yoe If you really want to know, I'll tell you. You don't "wait and see" how hostile invasions of sovereign nations, particularly ones in which you have a vested interest, play out. You don't wait and see how Hitler's invasions play out. You don't wait and see how Iraq's invasion of Kuwait plays out (The Original Gulf War). But, we should have waited to see how Korea (1950), Vietnam (1955), Iraq (2003), etc, etc, etc, played out, because in each of those cases WE were the ones doing the invading of another sovereign nation. Not the other way around. And, like I said, if there isn't an extremely clear and easily understood moral prerogative, then don't go in - period. The clearest example being when one nation unilaterally invades another nation in order to loot and plunder it, and it's people. WWI, WWII, and the Gulf War all had such clarity. And that is precisely the reason why we should not be ashamed for participating in those conflicts. But, the vast majority of the conflicts the United States has either started, or engaged in, have no such claim. There is one other extremely important aspect of having the kind of moral clarity I'm talking about, and that it's allows one to be relatively ruthless in the execution of the war. The morally tolerable use of nuclear weapons on Japan was predicated on the fact that: 1) They attacked us first and 2) That was a war that had to be won. It HAD to be. And you can't really can't say that about most other American conflicts.

  39. @Chicago Guy Our constitution stipulates we can only fight a defensive war ( territory invasion) and never an offensive one. This has been working for centuries.

  40. Afghanistan can’t be “won”. Not with 10000 troops, not with a million. We’ve trapped ourselves with our good intentions, again. We are destined to stay indefinitely, bleed money and lives, and partially fulfill OSB’s goal of financially crippling America with ever more expensive security commitments.

  41. What good intentions? Seriously, where does the notion come from that our barbarous, imperial actions are somehow based upon a non-existent cultural altruism? Talking about denial!

  42. I don't believe our military leaders and civilian leaders are unmindful of Afghanistan history or our Vietnam experience. Still they are sending young men/women to fight these wars and committing billions of dollars of taxpayers' money. The narratives like this merely confirm that we would rather not be told why they are doing it. Looking back, can we say that Vietnam was not a war but a mere battle that we lost and that, in the end, we won the cold war? Only thing is that we knew of the cold war while we were fighting in Vietnam. What bigger war we are fighting for in Afghanistan is a mystery.

  43. Excellent writing, Mr. Gibbons-Neff. I felt like I was with you during your time in Afghanistan. Thank you for your service but even more, thank you for being brutally honest about the cost of invading countries. Hopefully, we will learn from these forever wars that they cannot be “won”.

  44. If we leave Afghanistan we lose. If we stay we lose. Where is there victory?

  45. @NM Slim there aint

  46. "I don’t think there was ever a time when we thought we were winning or losing." Afghanistan through the centuries.

  47. God Bless you. The soldiers lament throughout thousands of years. Only now thru almost totally instant communication does the insanity come thru loud and clear.Almost 50 years of no draft policy allows Americans to go to Disney while leaders send our 1 percent of our young to do their twisted bidding.Bring the draft back this perverse foolishness may at least slow down.

  48. Updating John Kerry's famous quote about Vietnam: "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Afghanistan? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" To which we should add: How do you ask a man (or woman) to be the last one to die for the lies of the Bush/Cheney Administration?

  49. @Addison DeWitt: The troops have been there through the Obama administration. When Trump talked about removing the US troops you should have seen how the comment board lit up about abandoning Afghanistan.

  50. @Jp So we should stay? Hearts and minds

  51. @Richard G: Ask the folks who were criticizing Trump when he mentioned pulling out. As far as I am concerned, I served in the US Army in South Vietnam. I played an active role in Cold War 1.0. I'm sitting out V2.0. Same goes for Afghanistan.

  52. Nobody has learned the lessons of history when it comes to Afghanistan. Back in 1867 Sir John Lawrence, Viceroy of India, said “The Afghan will bear poverty, insecurity in life; but he will not tolerate foreign rule. The moment he has a chance, he will rebel." “The Afghans do not want us; they dread our appearance in the country. The circumstances connected with the last Afghan War have created in their hearts a deadly hatred to us as a people” Nothing has changed and no one - neither the Russian, the American nor the British politicians and military top brass - appear to have heeded Sir John's words of wisdom. Tragically, it is not they who pay the price for their historical ignorance; it is the military personnel sent to fight, and the innocent civilians caught up in the fighting. Such is the tragedy of The Great Game of Afghanistan.

  53. It was the British and the East India Company that forced Indian & Afghan farmers to grow poppy. It was British export to China to hook the Chinese on opium. Brits profited immensely from the opium exports. USA is paying for its consequences in terms of lives and Billions of $ as reparations. But, we will never learn until the decision makers are required to send their sons and daughters to fight on the ground. At present, poor whites and minority pay the ultimate price, and middle class ends up paying for upkeep of Vets. So it is easy for the politicians to beat drums of war. They don’t have a penny into it.

  54. The war in Afghanistan was never going to be won by shooting people. And through my experience in the Army, the only people who took the philosophy of diplomacy very seriously were Battalion and Company commanders, and some of the NCOs, because those were the people who were living and dying by the relationships they were forging with the locals. It seemed to me that virtually no one understand the culture, and even fewer people seemed to desire to learn it, myself included, though at the time I was just a corporal. Until such a time as a serious (costly and massive) diplomatic support mission is established to combat the Taliban, victory in Afghanistan will never happen.

  55. Glad to hear that the 100,000 plus civilians killed in Afghanistan since 2001 were “accidents”. That makes it all better.

  56. @Joe B. No, most weren’t accidents. The Taliban and Haqqani, which have been responsible for the vast majority of civilian casualties in this war (according to the UN), deliberately kill dozens to hundreds of civilians a month. If they sieze power they will undoubtedly kill many more.

  57. Middle son CAV scout deployed 2011 then as a Warrant two more times (including today), youngest son 2/8 Golf CO 2009 and 2011.

  58. Such a waste of lives.

  59. There is an entire new generation that has no collective conscience of why this insane war began. Do they even know that the Russians, with all of their military might and cruelty, failed there? Do they know that WE failed both there AND in Vietnam? Do they care, since there is no active DRAFT right now? WE NEED TO GET OUT - JUST LEAVE and don't Tweet the departure date (hear that Trump, you idiot?). We have not and cannot "win" and so many American lives has been needlessly lost chasing an ever-present and now expanding Muslim Gihad that WE created. That entire region has been made up of borderless, warring tribes for centuries. That will not change unless they unite against US. WE are their collective enemy and we are making things worse by the day. Bush thought the Iraq war was over when he declared it so on that ship. WRONG. Trump thinks it's over because he temporarily destroyed a physical Califate. WRONG. We have bred generations of Muslim extremists who do not wear uniforms like the British did in our Revolution - you can't tell the players without ID, and there are tens of millions of them, and the numbers grow daily as OUR weapons are used to bomb indiscriminately throughout the Arab world by many different players (take for example SA and Yemen). This can only end by educating their people and helping them out of poverty and ignorance. It's THEIR choice, not ours.

  60. What has been going in in Afghanistan for the last few decades is an ethnic sectarian civil war that has no military solution. At the center of the war are the Pashtun who are a plurality of Afghans. But a majority of Pashtun live in Pakistan where they are only 15% of Pakistanis. The Taliban didn't attack America on 9/11/01. But the 9/11/01 attacks began with Osama bin Laden's assassination of the ethnic Tajik Afghan leader Ahmad Shah Massoud as a favor to the Taliban a few days before 9/11. The Pashtun quest for a nation state of their own where they are the majority is problem that divides the Pashtun. While the Taliban is all Pashtun. Not all Pashtun are Taliban. And the other Afghan ethnic groups aka Tajik, Uzbek and Turkomen have their own interests and values. While Pakistan has it's own national interests in fueling and maintaining the Afghan civil war. Seeing the Soviet Union and America get tied down and humiliated helps Pakistan to focus on it's perceived real ethnic sectarian menace aka India.

  61. Aukland's Folly continues. As Tallyrand would have said of us, "they learn nothing and remember nothing."

  62. Thank you for your service. This needs to end. We got Bin Laden and there isn't the political will needed to commit enough troops to prevent Bin Laden II from popping up over there. So, just bring em home. Until the next big mess over there... maybe people will remember how this war worked out? Probably not.

  63. I think the author of this piece, specifically his mindset, shares a lot of responsibility for this unending conflict. He comes from a military family so he’s going to continue the trend of fighting and dying wherever he’s told, rather than rationally ask is this war necessary? Is it worth my life or limbs? He was anxious to fight, to go to war, to play John Wayne. He volunteered to be cannon fodder, along with others either seduced by testosterone (females included), or the money and benefits our mercenary armies now pay. With no draft there’s no analog to the brave Americans who forwent their lives as Americans and went to Canada. I was too young then but, yes, I would have gone to Vietnam if drafted. Part “boy on adventure,” for sure. But now I realize, older and trying for the total picture, that young men and women seeking conflict as an initiation process, are definitely part of the problem.

  64. Many of these comments are naive. Sorry. 1. Undeclared wars are not really wars. Oh, they are to those that fight them and their families that pay the price. But not to the rest of the citizenry. Not to the politicians we all re elect in Washington. A real war is declared. The country is the committed. If we are not committed, only a small number bear the true cost. The rest of us make comments on blogs. 2. Real wars are incredibly brutal. Please see WWI and WW2. But that is how you win a real war. You destroy resistance to the most basic level. Anything else is misguided nation building which had a terrible record. See Iraq, Vietnam, and Afghanistan. Korea as well. Sorry. It’s true. 3. There is a role for non declared actions. Korea was a police action. At least it wasn’t sold as a war. These actions do hurt our enemies badly and they keep the fighting away from our shores. Military strategists know this. It is simply not shared with the public. The media is clueless. But a small number of combatants pay the price. Or, the families of those who survive only to have PTSD when they come home. Or worse. So, Congress, men and women, stop presidential actions by presidents who do not deserve the title commander in Chief. Do your job. If you want a real war, declare it. I dare you. Do it! If not, grow up and take back your responsibility. Just DO IT. Or get another type of job. One where you do not need either a conscience or a backbone....

  65. @Wilmington EDT Whatever the nation is fighting for, the nation is not defending the shores of the United States in Africa and Asia. It is all about controlling resources and markets.

  66. @ARL- Its also about stoking up fires anywhere we can so we can sell weapons.

  67. I know what you mean. Vietnam still lives in my head and my life. If I pick up an article, usually clothing, in a department store, that says "Made in Vietnam," I throw it back. It awakens feelings I can't control. My wife, knowing how I feel, will do the same; she has been awakened many nights by my horrible nightmares made even more acute by my son's 30 years of Marine Corps service. He entered service two months before Desert Shield officially started. He retires in November. The nightmares I've had about his chopper being blown out of the air haven't stopped yet. My tombstone will likely read, "His nightmares have finally ended."

  68. The graveyard of empires.They measure time in thousands of years,death is eternal bliss.Have we an empire to give ,we're trying,have we thousands of years ,hundreds,even we think not.Is no amount of death enough ,not a problem over there.Will politicians ever use the trillions here ,constructively ,one thinks not.

  69. I was in Vietnam...it seemed like a waste of time, money and lives but even when we lose or more accurately when we get tired of fighting...we do good. The Vietnamese government still prefers us to China or Russia and someday they may even become more...free? These wars seem useless, they are not. Our presence in the world is better than the lack of our presence ...doesn't seem like a lot but I think it's enough.

  70. @Andrew "These wars seem useless, they are not." Andrew, you seem to learn nothing from Vietnam. Or from history.

  71. @Andrew Have you ever considered that if we hadn't have sacrificed all those lives, resources, and decades of international good will, Vietnam would be even more free now, and have an even better relationship with the US?

  72. @Andrew Communist Vietnam cozies up to US only because of the fear and threat of being next door to China. And not because of whatever good the US may have done during the war because you seem to have either forgotten or willfully ignored the civilian collateral damage caused by the US military. As for the North, on what basis do you count the common people to have any goodwill toward the US ? They liked being bombed,they really do ??

  73. So many lives lost; so much loss of youth and hope. Anyone who thinks that changing a tribal culture can be done is crazy. We need to get out of there! Enough young American lives lost. Are we waiting for the 20th anniversary?

  74. Vietnam comparison, sure. How about going farther back: Britain fighting the American colonies; Britain fighting in Afghanistan; France fighting in Vietnam; France fighting in Algeria; the Soviet Union in Afghanistan? On and on with countries fighting foreign wars from walled-off outposts (forts, bases, castles) while guerilla tactics are used against them at a constant pace and over long years that the citizens back in the home countries weary of the continued fight. If one is going to go to war, a full commitment is required, as with WWI and WWII, to route out a enemy that skirmishes/fights and then seemingly disappears, and with all the collateral damage that entails - see Syria now. If one is not prepared to make that commitment, the "war" will almost certainly be lost. Yet, even with that commitment, how does one's army distinguish between enemy fighters and ordinary citizens when they dress the same way? A limited war is a stagnant war. Perhaps bringing back the draft will make things clearer to everybody.

  75. @JW They had the best fighter jets money can buy and they could not stop four little airplanes on 9/11 either. Then they went to Afghanistan and continued with Iraq and there is no end in sight. There was the intelligence from the US and the UK and the general's testimony before the UN, all lies and the Democrats knew it and still, almost every democrat supported the invasion of Iraq. Will they do the same against Iran? All that was even before Trump the liar became president. Will they repeat the same performance?

  76. @JW And let's go even farther back: The Roman Empire in Britain and Germania; the Crusaders in Jerusalem and what is now present-day Israel. Compare with the US Army after the Civil War fighting Native American tribes in the West and Southwest: yes, from forts, but attacking the villages and causing devastation.

  77. We never had a clue, apart from payback, and, "we just wanted to deploy," When will America ever learn?

  78. It's not a "war." It was an illegal invasion, followed by a 17-year occupation.

  79. Having read nearly every book ever written on the Soviet Union's involvement in Afghanistan, all I can say is they (the USSR) told you so. In fact, many, many former Soviet generals warned the US about getting involved in Afghanistan. But of course America always know better. NOT. Ignorance of history will be the undoing of America. The American Empire is crumbling and the descent is going to be horrifying. "Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell, and you can foresee the future too." - Marcus Aurelius

  80. So right on. No one has “conquered” Afghanistan going back to before Alexander the Great. The British are 0-3 in Afghan Wars. We never learn a thing.

  81. Bernard Fall and the French told us too about Indochina and we know how that turned out!

  82. @Raven The ignorance of American policy-makers and military officers regarding Afghanistan is nothing short of criminal. I have not read the Soviet authors you mention but I do have in my hands as I write a copy of Lt. Vincent Eyre's 1842 account of 'the retreat and destruction of the British army' from Cabul. I read in an earlier article in the Times that some U.S. officers (officers!) had been surprised to find 19th century British rifles in the Kabul bazaar, expressing amazement at the fact. And heck, these yokels apparently haven't even read McDonald Fraser's 'Flashman', an easy read if ever there was one. So now, almost 20 years after the invasion, the final bill for this ignorance will have to be paid in shame and infamy.

  83. Remember Vera Lynn.. Bring the Boys Back Home..

  84. We should have left Afghanistan as soon as the Taliban were out of power along time ago. I will not get into questioning why naval infantry (Marines) are operating in a landlocked country. There is not enough room here.

  85. It looks like we have to relearn the lessons our fathers learned in the second WW. That generation worked for a better world, and they did succeed in many ways. Now we have people who are out to demolish all of it. There is not one real man or woman with the stature of a statesman near Trump, not one person, midgets are running the show.

  86. I am making this post in good faith. I am not sure of all the facts. I believe I am correct about some of the general lines of reasoning. I base this on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and to a lesser extent upon the fire-bombing of Tokyo by the United States during World War Two. I believe that most of the lives killed in the atomic bombings were civilians. Soldiers on active duty were not being posted in home cities. The inhabitants were largely women, children, and non-combatant males, such as old or injured men. I have not verified these statements, but I am assuming they are largely accurate. The atomic bombings took place in this context: in order to defeat the Japanese, American planners determined that a full-scale invasion of the Japanese homeland would be needed. It was calculated that such an invasion would cost two million American lives. I can only imagine that an equal number of Japanese would have been killed in the process. By killing a few hundred thousand people in the atomic bombings, we thereby saved two million American lives and another two million Japanese lives. Therefore it was the right thing to do. Not only that, but it immediately ended the entire war. I make the following analogy in good faith. Although I know it will be regarded by some or many with objection or outrage. Number one, I am NOT - repeat NOT - suggesting the use of nuclear weapons in Afghanistan. Or anywhere else. I do suggest we earnestly

  87. @MAGIC You are certainly "earnestly" about to make a point.

  88. I was on a conference call with my congressman last year, I asked why we were still in Afghanistan? What was victory? When are we going to leave? I got his opinion (we shouldn’t be there, etc). I really haven’t heard any explanation from anybody in either the legislative or executive branch on why we are still there. I hear pundits and talking heads say it’s about not letting a terrorist organization have a safe place to plan more attacks. I feel extremely let down by our government and the media for just letting Afghanistan fester on, with nobody in power having to justify the blood and treasure we as a country are expending on it.

  89. We need to start having our generals and politicians responsible for these disasters tried for treason. First Vietnam, then Afghanistan and Iraq. Any explanation as to how we get bogged down in these quagmires? Nope. Any explanation as to why our military is incapable from learning from its mistakes and keeps using the same failed strategies over and over? Nope. Did anyone bother asking whether this was a good way to spend literally trillions of dollars? Of course not! Our leaders on these issues are either incredibly incompetent or incredibly corrupt. There's simply no third option...

  90. @John Chenango Think Colin Powell here from a Captain dealing with the My Lai coverup to his "acting" at the UN in 2003. War criminals.

  91. @John Chenango All those politicians were elected sad to say.

  92. A very clarifying point as to why we need to finally leave Afghanistan, we don't understand why we are there.

  93. Nice to see a photo of the brave men and women who defend us. White, hispanic, black, etc. No division here. No racism here. No politics until this fake President. All young people should be forced to serve, if you survive then you get your education, if you die--then you still get educated.

  94. @Daniel . The joys of endless wars. Thank goodness we had the military to "defend us" from the invading Viet Cong. Now they "defend us" from the Taliban hordes invading Miami or the Iraqi's storming the Hampton beaches.

  95. The soldier's/marine' paradox... as Rudyard would say... "For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!” But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot" ... and then live with it...

  96. When will we give up the White Man’s Burden? The Brits and the French sloped off into history and left us as the enthusiastic and naive bumpkins.

  97. "I don’t think there was ever a time when we thought we were winning or losing. We just wanted to deploy, to get into the war, to fight. We figured we’d make sense of it all when we got home." Sounds like those who are risking their lives in Afghanistan don't know what we are there for, either. It's time to write off our sunk costs and cut our losses.

  98. @Kite runner That's basic Marinespeak...just wanna go fight...we'll give it some thought later....That's why Marines are Marines....

  99. This article reminds me of a speech John Kerry gave to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1971. Here are some excerpts. "to attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam, Cambodia or Laos by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom... is to us the height of criminal hypocrisy, and it is that kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country apart...how do you ask a man to be the last man to die in Vietnam? How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" Trump is of course right about wanting to get out of Afghanistan. I'm sure that fact outrages his critics & MSM pundits. There's no argument for staying there. None. The U.S. has been mired in the Middle East since the 1970s. What do we have to show for it? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Nothing except the trillions of dollars we have wasted trying to solve this region's problems. Nothing except the thousands of American soldiers needlessly wounded, maimed, or killed. Nothing except the 900 billion we will spend on medical care & disability benefits for veterans who fought in the Middle East. And after all this wasted money & lives the region is as bad as it has ever been, worse. And the opposition's brilliant solution to this terrible ongoing tragedy is to waste more money, to put more boots on the ground, to put more American lives in harm's way. It's an unwinnable war. Am I the only one who finds these people revolting? We need to get out now, not next year, not next month, now!

  100. @Bob Smith Warren and Buttigieg pledged to get out immediately, even without a deal with the Taliban

  101. @Bob Smith I go to MLK speech at Riverside Church..."the US is the greatest purveyor of violence on this planet."

  102. @Bob Smith Trump wants to get out? Why hasn't he done it then? Now he wants to attack Iran. Hardly a peacemaker.

  103. My son was with the Marines in Marjah. He refuses to speak about it.

  104. Paktia-Khost Provinces 2003-4/Iraq-2005-6 The question which everyone asks themselves when the memory brings back those horrific times is..."was it worth it..was the sacrifice in terms of American KIA, families torn apart..and the monetary cost for the years in Iraq and Afghanistan..was it worth it?" It is hard to find solace when one thinks deeply about our time in these countries...

  105. ok so we thought afghanistan was going to be the easy pickings. now no doubt it was all (but one) saudis that did the dirty deed. the problem was we knew who the culprits were but if we had created war zone in saudi arabia the oil markets may have been badly damaged and that would have had a negative impact on u s multinational corporations and hence the stock market. nope lets do a symbolic gesture and let that be the sufficient response. cute. everybody will be happy. but here we are still trying to win that side show. there is just no telling how wars will go.

  106. I believe that 15 of the September 11, 2001 attackers were Saudis and that extremists in Saudi Arabia have funded other extremists around the world. It would be ironic if the US went to war once again to defend the extremist Saudi regime.

  107. Our first mistake in Afghanistan was to think of it as a country. It is not. A country has the loyalty of its citizens. In Afghanistan loyalties are to tribe, ethnic group and religion. That hasn't changed in thousands of years and wishing for a strong central government won't make one. The second mistake was made by our generals; they study past victories. They should have studied past losses in the Graveyard of Empires. History has shown that invaders can get the support of one of Afghanistan's many factions. The others all unite against them. Then they make life miserable for the invaders and wait until the get tired, give up and go home after suffering huge losses. That's our future there and the sooner we recognize it the better. We've lost about 3500 between military and civilians and many thousands injured, often severely so. We've wasted enough in lives and money. Time to go.

  108. @Michael Feely Afghanistan is a country, in fact it has been an independent country longer than the United States. And I have never met an Afghan who believed that his identity did not include being a citizen of Afghanistan. The cliche of Afghanistan as a "Graveyard of Empires" is very popular but utterly false. Afghanistan has been conquered and ruled by foreign empires at least a dozen times during its history, beginning with the Persian Achaemenid Empire. A more accurate cliche would be to characterize Afghanistan as a quagmire for Western imperialist countries.

  109. @Allan Langland -- Never considered Russia a western nation.

  110. @Michael Feely And we're losing one to suicide every hour.

  111. We should leave. Yes, leaving won't be bipartisan. There will be political consequences. Unlikely there will be an Afghanistan memorial. The action there, barely within our consciousness now, will float away even further. Only those who served, those with loved ones who served will remember or be burdened by memory.

  112. This is why Congressman Charles Rangel contended that we should bring back the draft. For moral legitimacy to prevail, suffering and knowledge like this should belong to the whole people, not just a self-selected group.

  113. Absolutely bring back the draft. My fantasy is that you have to be over 50 to serve. It’s all high tech. Save our youth.

  114. Last week, Condi said we have to stay in Afghanistan until we succeed in helping the Afghani government be able to take care of themselves. Shehe pointed out that the Korean war is still not over.

  115. The Korean War? We lost that too. Evidence? In the 1950s they had nothing but millions of Chinese troops. Now no Chinese troops. Instead they have nuclear weapons middles and bombs and can deliver them. They are now invulnerable. The Korean War is the first of all the many wars we have lost since WWII

  116. @Yuri Pelham What? The US succeeded in its primary and original goal in Korea: protect South Korea and stop the communists from controlling the whole peninsula. Today, South Korea is a prosperous democracy. North Korea is an isolated, impoverished, totalitarian regime. I’d call that a long-term win.

  117. The Afgan and Iraq wars are parallel wars. While the war in Iraq was fought for many reasons, e.g., oil (for Cheney), revenge (for George W.), for Condie Rice it was to make Iraq a demonstration democratic Arab state. I think that is also the reason that we have stayed in Afghanistan. We want to believe that we can help those countries to get organized around modern democratic concepts. Big Powers, the Roman Empire, the Western European colonizers, were nation builders. They conquered tribal people, took their resources and riches, a brought "civilization" to "the heathens." Nation building has always been a murderous, nasty business of forcing tribal people to become part of the nation, or be killed. At its core, we're nation-building in Iraq/Afgan. We want the educated Afghanis/Iraqis to prevail. The Taliban are the tribal people. The patriarchy at its zenith, barefoot, uneducated women and children. If we explicitly named the project we undertook, and if we thereby explicitly understood what was going to be required, then we might have done much better over the last 18 years, e.g., developed a mining industry & associated engineering school. We would have expected that our support would be needed for at least a generation, 60 to 80 years. That's nation building. We created the mess in Iraq and we have made promises to the Afganis. Now we are just going to walk away and let the educated classes in Kabul and elsewhere be slaughtered by the Taliban?

  118. The Afgan and Iraq wars are parallel wars. While the war in Iraq was fought for many reasons, e.g., oil (for Cheney), revenge (for George W.), for Condie Rice it was to make Iraq a demonstration democratic Arab state. I think that is also the reason that we have stayed in Afghanistan. We want to believe that we can help those countries to get organized around modern democratic concepts. Big Powers, the Roman Empire, the Western European colonizers, were nation builders. They conquered tribal people, took their resources and riches, a brought "civilization" to "the heathens." Nation building has always been a murderous, nasty business of forcing tribal people to become part of the nation, or be killed. At its core, we're nation-building in Iraq/Afgan. We want the educated Afghanis/Iraqis to prevail. The Taliban are the tribal people. The patriarchy at its zenith, barefoot, uneducated women and children. If we explicitly named the project we undertook, and if we thereby explicitly understood what was going to be required, then we might have done much better over the last 18 years, e.g., developed a mining industry & associated engineering school. We would have expected that our support would be needed for at least a generation, 60 to 80 years. That's nation building. We created the mess in Iraq and we have made promises to the Afganis. Now we are just going to walk away and let the educated classes in Kabul and elsewhere be slaughtered by the Taliban?

  119. @HipOath Your attempt to draw a parallel between 19th century European colonial imperialism and Afghanistan isn’t new, but it is extremely misguided. For one, the US never “took the resources and wealth” of Iraq or Afghanistan. In fact, both wars were extremely costly, and the US invested massively in both countries. If America “plundered the wealth” of Afghanistan, its GDP wouldn’t have more than tripled since 2001.

  120. @HipOath A very insightful comment. And I agree with sticking it out, so long as it is a UN or NATO project, and not just an American one.

  121. Beyond telling us stories of war for catharsis alone, Thomas Gibbons-Neff creates indelible images that sear their way into our consciousness - flashes of joy butchered in the horrors of war: 'And Josh? His voice mail used to be the sound of waves crashing on the beach. “Hey, this is Josh. I’m off surfing right now; leave a message.” In my dreams, he is always 23 when we run into each other at the airport. He is excited to be going home.' I'm heartened that The Times understands how much these images are needed, especially now, as we stand on the brink of yet another war.

  122. @common sense advocate...'and the joys of butchering in the horrors of war.' Some thrive on it. And the US breathes it.(and breeds it)

  123. "We figured we’d make sense of it all when we got home. If we got home." I'm 62. That's not combat. That's life.

  124. I read all these comments where everyone has the answers. Ask the same questions on 911 and answers would be completely different. The Middle East is a very unstable place and maybe our goal is to stop things from escalating into more wars.

  125. It's been nearly five decades, and the fighting has ceased, but I still hear the echos and see the ghosts from my deployment to Vietnam. Ignorance and hubris have played an old but cruel joke once more.

  126. While our government conducts a one sided “negotiation” with the Taliban with a goal being that they agree to keep terrorists from using Afghanistan to attack the US, when will we ever learn that there will always be terrorists and you can’t kill an ideology. Afghanis have the right to live in peace but that is one heck of a fractured, backward, corrupt, contentious and stubborn society. We’re not going to make them do anything different from what they’ve been doing for decades or generations. It’s unfortunate but we have to walk away and learn another lesson. And, yes, it can be compared to our experience in Vietnam. When will we ever learn?

  127. @Don Vietnam is now a modern success, in spite of our paranoia about Communist domination of Indochina. When will we learn?

  128. Please read my first post several posts earlier. This is in context of that post. I find it remarkable, and deplorable, that the United States cannot achieve a decisive, permanent military victory in Aghanistan, once and for all. I believe that a main reason is that we are bending over backwards to avoid civilian casualties. I am not especially knowledgeable about the Afghanistan war, but that is my belief. I read an article written by a journalist embedded with our Afghan forces, which stated that the insurgents were taking advantage of our stated policy of avoiding civilian casualties: https://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/24/magazine/24afghanistan-t.html?pagewanted=all&module=Search&mabReward=relbias:r%2c%7b%221%22:%22RI:10%22%7d I believe we could win the war if we are willing to accept civilian casualties. The civilians are not purely innocent. The women are breeding boys who may grow up to be insurgent fighters. And girls who may become such breeders themselves. The civilians may be making the clothing worn by the fighters, growing the food eaten by the fighters, and otherwise supplying the fighters supplies and equipment. They are refusing to provide information about the whereabouts of the fighters, who sometimes hide among them. If we were to target all Afghans aggressively, military and civilian alike, I believe we could achieve a decisive victory within months. And end the war, once and for all. And if they don't like it, they can simply surrender.

  129. @MAGIC The Soviets adopted your plan in Afghanistan; they did not win. They retreated in disgrace, even leaving POWs behind.

  130. @"I am not especially knowledgeable about the Afghanistan war, but that is my belief." "And the end of war, once and for all", You cannot possibly believe that, with Obama bombing 7 countries in his last year. Give that man a Nobel Prize. You said it all.

  131. @MAGIC Man you are simple! Do you really think it is that simple because your comment indicates you have taken no time to really understand things. I suspect you are looking for someone else to do the fighting and killing just like the many couch commandos that advocate for war but risk nothing! You do know that we encouraged and backed religious extremists after ww2 and throughout the 60s and bin-Ladin was a cia asset because he was anti soviet. It is not that simple as you need to offer a nuanced opinion not just one gleaned from Fox News. You would have gotten along with Lt. Callie in Vietnam.... don’t know what that is.... research it.

  132. The decision has been made that we are going to leave Afghanistan, all of this posturing is to find a face saving way to do so. Our continued presence is just delaying the inevitable. Once we pull out the government will collapse and the country will go back to what they do best, fighting among themselves. Russia may come back in, they would be incredibly stupid to do so, but you never know. The best thing we can do know is to get our people out as quickly as possible. These deaths are an absolute waste, they are just to help a politician look better, they serve no other purpose. The problem with having been around awhile, is you see that history really does go in circles. This is the end of Vietnam Part Duex. Hopefully we can avoid having to push helicopters into the ocean during the final pull out.

  133. @Bruce1253 History recapitulates the geometry of the DNA molecule which recapitulates the event that created the universe itself. It's all a spiral through time. Free Will is a bit of an illusion.

  134. @Bruce1253 The pushing happened decades ago. Think pallets of shrink wrapped cash disappearing. Added to the 800+ global military installations, the US will never entirely leave "the country where empires go to die".

  135. Exactly like Vietnam. Hope for face saving agreement then in a year or two Taliban back in control. We offer to evacuate two million Afghans who want to leave, as many women as possible.

  136. What a monumental waste of time, money, lives and prestige.

  137. I was present at the late 2008 creation of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) - the parent unit for CPL Gibbons-Neff's infantry battalion - as I was serving as the U.S. State Department Foreign Policy Advisor for the II Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Two weeks before Christmas 2008, Brigadier General Larry Nicholson was informed that instead of leaving for Iraq in January to be the Commander of Marine ground forces, he would instead deploy to Afghanistan in April as the Commander of the newly-formed 2nd MEB. He was given a small staff of Marines culled from those who were scheduled to deploy to Iraq, and had only three months to train his staff and oversee the training of subordinate units that were assigned to his new brigade. That he successfully accomplished this very difficult task, was, I believe, due to his great leadership skills, the superior quality of Marine Officers, and the uniformity of training undertaken by all Marine units. I have always thought that the deployment of the 2nd MEB to Helmand Province rather than Kandahar Province was an error as Kandahar had much greater strategic importance. The decision to send the 2nd MEB to Helmand was due to bureaucratic inertia as the MEB was replacing other Marine units in Helmand, and also due to political considerations as the British were willing to accept help in Helmand while the Canadians in Kandahar opposed ceding the lead to the Marines.

  138. We are fighting wars we have no business being in. The US has not won a war since WW II. We have fought to a draw - Korea, lost - Vietnam, or walked away from all of our wars. Oops! I forgot Grenada, we are death on small Caribbean nations. If the sacrifice of our men and women is going to mean anything, then you don't use them on anything less than a fight for survival. If that is why we are fighting, then you do whatever, and I do mean whatever, it takes to win. If we are as brutal and destructive as possible, we will only have to do it once. One of the reasons we are in continuous warfare now, is our opponents have figured out if they string it out long enough, we will throw a bunch of money at them and go away. We are wasting our time, talent and treasure on meaningless wars. Meanwhile, people are hungry, homeless, under educated, not cared for, here at home. If we weren't spending $ Trillions on useless wars we could be solving these problems.

  139. @Bruce1253 "One of the reasons we are in continuous warfare now, is our opponents have figured out if they string it out long enough, we will throw a bunch of money at them and go away." That's what the Roman Empire did in its declining years. The Germanic tribes which overran it despised it for that even while admiring it for its past achievements, as reflected in its incredible buildings, like the Pont du Gard.

  140. The American Military Empire has gotten out of control. How many more young and brilliant people must return with missing limbs or in a flag-draped coffin. How many more children will have to grow up with a tombstone for a parent?? Afghanistan and Iraq were woeful mistakes. Most of the politicians who wanted us to go to war would have never sent their children to fight. Why do you think Donald Trump put a clause into his prenup with Marla Maples that said he would revoke child support for Tiffany if she joined the Military? Yes, he wasn't in office then but the question is valid today. The number of Afghan lives lost is sickening. We have destroyed a beautiful nation and we are responsible for the Taliban (funding them in the '80s). Conservatives love to talk about the oppressed burqa-clad women in the Middle East and the Arab world but fail to recognize that we created this society.

  141. @South-Asian Americana You are incredibly wrong on numerous points. For starters, the US is not responsible for the Taliban and did not fund them in the 1980s. This is an extremely persistent myth, but it is still a myth. The Taliban were not even founded until the early 90s. Afghan refugees, who had been radicalized in Pakistani mosques, returned to try and wrest control of the country from the Mujahideen warlords (the ones who fought the Soviets with US backing). Obviously there are some switching sides among various warlords and insurgents, but the Taliban simply did not exist back whenever the US supported the Afghan rebellion against the Soviets. By extension, the US did not destroy Afghanistan. The wars there began after the pro-Soviet military coup, and ensuing civil war, in 1978. The country was relatively peaceful before then. The Soviets, not America, started the conflict there. Things have gotten a lot better there since 2001, though. Child mortality has been cut in half. Education enrollment, for boys and especially for girls, has increased exponentially. GDP has more than tripled. Access to health care and vaccination is much more widespread. Women can participate in government and civil society. So I can’t really say that America’s intervention “destroyed” the country.

  142. How will we know the war in Afghanistan is over according to our leaders? When we see miniskirts again in Kabul. So, a trillion dollars, 20 years of war, death, mayhem, terror, etc., in an effort to get other people to dress like we did about 70 years ago? Imagine the costs this country will go through to introduce the women of Kabul to Spanx.

  143. War is ever thus. Some of us knew this back in 2002 when we were marching in the streets against a forever war.

  144. I love and respect all those Marines, warriors in the truest sense, fighting so hard for each other. Lying next to each other, sleeping until the battle starts again. Semper Fi.

  145. @Carlos TO what end? For what purpose? To feel glorious? There is nothing heroic or glorious when men slaughter one another at the whim of greedy politicians To say nothing of the civilian deaths.

  146. Fifty years from now, your dead friends will occasionally drop in to see you in your dreams. They' ll still be young. They'll look good. It'll be nice to see them again.

  147. @jim allen That's probably due to the friends not really being "dead". Death is a door not a wall.

  148. Nicely written, a story well told.

  149. They talk about US troops leaving Afghanistan, i wonder why US troops in thousands are still in Japan, when the hostilities ended in 1945. It is all most 75 years. Talibans are ignorant people. Somebody better make them understand that in history. I understand that Japan pays for that. Is there no way find out Afghans pays US forces being in Afghanistan. Why there is hurry? It is only 18 years and not even 50 years.

  150. @Trevor Diaz I believe any US troops in Japan are there to protect the Japanese; or to provide a US military presence in that part of the world, against potential aggressors (such as Russia, China, or North Korea). Not to occupy Japan. https://www.google.com/search?q=us+japan+mutual+defense+treaty&rlz=1C5CHFA_enUS832US832&oq=us-japan+mutual&aqs=chrome.2.0j69i57j0l4.7148j1j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8 US troop presence in Japan also means that if an aggressor were to attack Japan, that might kill American servicemen, which could quickly bring the US directly into the conflict. Which could also serve to protect Japan against aggressors.

  151. @MAGIC Japan prospered because the USA imposed a secular constitution on Japan and made sure it was implemented. Afghanistan was allowed to adopt a Constitution based on the religious values of 7th century Arabia. That is why it still is operating in the 7th century.

  152. Both my boys enlisted, 11b s, in the US Infantry out of high school, Gung-ho, as you Marines would say, I guess. After Fort Benning, and, into their assignments, eventually one went to Irag, the other to Afghanistan, both of them came to hate the US Army, saying it was a soul-destroying and totally dishonest entity, made up of essentially boot-lickers in both the officer and non-commissioned officer classes, with few exceptions. Both said don't trust whatever the Army tells you, or tells anybody, as truth. It ain't so. I am sad to have to write so. But I believe them.

  153. PTSD has become our rite of passage.

  154. It should come as no great surprise for any American what would come to pass in Afghanistan. You don't have to go than far back. A quick study of the First Anglo-Afghan War, Second Anglo-Afghan War, Third Anglo-Afghan War and the Great Game should would have brought great clarity about Afghanistan.

  155. @HistoryRhymes This assumes that those planning this escapade read their history and were actually capable of learning from it. Of course, they probably had a hidden, overriding objective which was to make money off the US taxpayer, all the while crying for smaller government and less regulation.

  156. Tragic. The Shia and Sunni have been at war with each other for over 1,400 years. We were wise to let them fight. They were too busy killing one another to be bothered with killing us. Then we built bases in the Muslim Holy Lands. Despite being told to leave, GWB stayed. Bin Laden warned us. Now, we're involved in a never ending war in a part of the world we should leave.

  157. @Jim We created the Taliban long before we built bases in Saudi Arabia. In very early 80s we flooded the Mujahadeen with sophisticated weapons and training after the Russkies invaded. We couldn't provide weapons and training fast enough because we wanted to undermine the Russkies. The Mujahadeen were jihadists then but we didn't care. Now we care.

  158. Wait? Is war not the answer to everything? I'm confused. I thought for sure that invading other people's countries was a surefire way to world peace.

  159. My husband joined the Marines after 9/11 and after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan returned home in one piece. Unfortunately, we will have to maintain our military there indefinitely because Al queda and the Taliban are waiting for us to let our guard down.

  160. I spent 15 months in Helmand, 2010-11. After a week it was clear that “boots on the ground” wasn’t the answer to anything that would assist the Afghans. The U.S. government burn rate was $1 billion a year, just in that one province. Our most notable achievement during my time there was repair of the irrigation network that USAID built in the‘60s. Poppy production benefited handsomely. The Afghan who ran the water district coordinated water distribution with the Taliban shadow water minister, who was his cousin and lived in Pakistan. The provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, had a building that stored records of property ownership. It burned down, mysteriously. President Trump’s former chief of staff, General John Kelly, had a son in Helmand then. First Lieutenant Robert Michael Kelly, USMC, was killed on 9 November 2010. IED.

  161. That a boy in 8th grade knows he wants to go fight in war - how is this any different than raising "radical Jihadists" or "radical Taliban" or "radical terrorists"? What false story is being fed these poor young men and women that they think they are going out to "Save the World"?

  162. @Maria Indeed. Certainly, at least in the early years, a lot of the troops who went to Viet Nam were the sons of men who fought in what was America's last honorable war. It took a while for that to become apparent.

  163. Your story isn't that different from thousands of others. Mine was Vietnam 1969-70. It is the same senseless insanity that, for some reason, we believe as a nation is GOOD. There is NO VALUE IN WAR. This is not WWII, which actually had an objective. We were protecting civilization at that time. Now we are just supporting the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us against. Medals don't bring your friends back.

  164. Thanks for this honest report. The only justification for this endless tragedy is to line the pockets of those who profit ( i.e.- the Military Industrial Complex, who are able to do so by lining the pockets of politicians from both parties). If we continue on this road, we are an empire going down....Rome, the British Empire, the USSR. We’ll be next. Unless.....

  165. Thanks for this honest report. The only justification for this endless tragedy is to line the pockets of those who profit ( i.e.- the Military Industrial Complex, who are able to do so by lining the pockets of politicians from both parties). If we continue on this road, we are an empire going down....Rome, the British Empire, the USSR. We’ll be next. Unless.....

  166. This is an high price to pay for just saying, at least we tried to do some good. And don't get it wrong, while it does look like the local society didn't appreciate the american engagement very much, always keep in mind, millions of afghans left their country because of the taliban, and have returned because of the americans. All these is for naught, once the americans leave, and everybody knows this. And that is what really is frustrating everyone, allies and locals alike. Everyone except the taliban. Probably there never was an chance of a short or medium term gain. Maybe history will judge this engagement with more leniency. Maybe when the taliban establish their reign of intimidation and misery again, many afghans will remember the americans as a force of stability and good intentions. But for the small people, for the soldiers, there is no prize. The only thing, that should matter, is to have survived, to heal the scars on body and mind, and have a peaceful and decent life. And all the politics that should matter is to care for the veterans and their families to look forward, not back.

  167. AFPAK region. 2009-2012. A few years into my deployment I came across an explosion scene I remember to this day. It was total carnage, bits of shredded clothes and flesh/bones were strewn across a dirt road for 30 feet. An assassination attempt had occurred a few minutes earlier and there was an eerie silence. In that moment I realized that the war had outlived it’s usefulness. Save money.

  168. Read these comments, as many as you will. Recognize that there may be no simple logic to guide us in what we should or should not do now, just as there was none then. Are we there to help a country to become more “civilized?” Or to help weapons manufacturers make a lot of money? To stand up for the rights of the oppressed? Or to make sure we continue to control commerce in as much of the world as we can? There are plenty of people involved whose motives include these and many others. For me, I say simply we’ve got to stop trying to exert control over people in other parts of the world, even if the argument can be made that it may place us in some danger (remember the Domino theory?). What if we spent the money we spend on foreign wars on trying to make every person in this country secure by providing food, health care, and a decent education to all regardless of ability to pay? To understand our military presence in the rest of the world, read The Sorrows of Empire - Chalmers Johnson.

  169. War makes more enemies than friends. That is what American soldiers felt while fighting on the ground in order to restore normalcy of governance.

  170. This story is heart rending and heart breaking. These are the young soldiers who will end up at the VA being cared for for the rest of their lives one way or another - for wounds seen and unseen. I worked in the VA homeless program in Oakland and my wife retired as a career VA employee, so we saw this, and we know. Thomas Gibbons, you are a wonderful writer and I hope you live a happy and long life from now on.

  171. So, nothing has been acieved in 18 years, the Taliban are stronger today than 2002, why does the US not pull out, make a movie where they win and leave it at that? Future civilization casualties will thank them. Another ridiculous debacle to add to the unbroken list of failures of the US military, who have won nothing since science won the war with Japan. Meanwhile politicians continue to threaten intervention when the only sure losers are the taxpayers. Military suppliers delighted of course. Just think, even if succesful what would a favorable result be? Permanent occupation of a foreign country with guaranteed increased cost casualties and hatred? Enough already! The trillion dollar per year Defense budget, rather than keep us safe, does the opposite.

  172. This report makes me unspeakably sad. All those young lives, all that talent, all those deep connections, broken, gone, never to come back. We must stop this endless war. We must change the way the USA behaves in the world. Otherwise, we will become more and more inured to raising children to be cannon fodder and more and more inured to the needless bombing and killing of uninvolved third world human beings, people just like us with dreams and fears and aspirations.

  173. Bring back the draft. That will keep us out of these wars. Thousands and thousands of newly concerned parents of draftees calling their senators. That’s what we need.

  174. No way...why should people who want no part of it be sacrificed for the egos of politicians and generals. The draft didn’t turn out well for the 50K plus who died and many more injured in Vietnam to cover up the political machinations for several administrations.

  175. The United States made a terrible mistake when it went into Iraq and broke the china. It must repair the china or replace it until Iraq is made fully whole. But the United States owes nothing to Afghanistan. Afghanistan facilitated 9/11 when it was being ruled by the Taliban. The decision to invade Afghanistan was morally right. But there was no obligation, and there still is none, to nation-build Afghanistan. The United States and its allies must do everything and anything that is needed to ensure the security of the United States and if that means carpet bombing then so be it. The United States and its allies must do everything and anything that is needed to ensure the security of the United States and if that means going into Pakistan and eliminating all factions that could work on a repeat of 9/11 like incidents then so be it. The bitter truth is that unless the Pakistani army is removed from power and Pakistan turned into a secular democracy or broken into four separate countries ( Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunwa) the threat from Afghanistan, read from Pakistan, will remain festering. A country that murdered 3 million East Pakistani Bengalis in 1970-71 has no right to exist. PS: East Pakistan is now the independent Bangladesh is outstripping Pakistan in social and economic development.

  176. Said Arabia owns 9/11 so why not take it to Saudi Arabia? Because your president is owned by the Saudi royal family which is why Trump said he must clear any retaliation for the oil refinery attack last weekend with his bosses - the Saudi royal family. I understand you feel that you must serve your country. I wish you would question what your generals tell you about why you are jumping out of helicopters in Afghanistan and killing families by mistake.

  177. Was there ever a time in world history that the Afghanistan area was peaceful?

  178. Thanks for your service, then and now. Bearing witness isn't mandatory, but it is appreciated. The American public should start realizing that these wars end, not when the cost to the "enemy" is too high (because it always is in terms of life destroyed), but when the cost to ourselves gets too high. It's tragic that politicians are years behind the rest of us in realizing this - and a shame that we keep re-electing them.

  179. Wow, a little depressing story by a veteran....I am a Vietnam Combat Wounded Veteran...Thomas Gibbons-Neff could of been more respectful of his Veteran Friends by stating when he left they have won their conflicts. JIM

  180. The Taliban and the Viet Cong are indomitable on their own turf, just like we were - and still are. And always will be.

  181. @Coy Not really. The US and its allies won World War II because they pulled no punches. Too many punches were pulled during the Vietnam war and we are still pulling too many punches in Afghanistan. War is dirty. It costs lives. If we want to win in Afghanistan we must play dirty, real dirty and go all the way. Fight until the Taliban and its facilitator, Pakistan, are fully defeated. Or pull out, cold turkey. Now.

  182. The first thing wrong with this article is that those are not Marines ready to launch an assault in the picture. Unless it is a suicide assault. They have no combat equipment except the gun.

  183. It doesn't say they're ready. It says they're preparing.

  184. @Richard I think you miss the point of the article.

  185. No, we are not 'the good guys.' Yes, we are 'the evil empire.' (not that there aren't other evil smaller ones. Choose your poison.)

  186. This is simple writing that if done with intentionality is a masterpiece. It emotes the random, senselessness and chaos of the war experience.

  187. Many of us feel guilty about sending our military men and women to fight in undefined and unneeded wars. But let me please remind y'all that there is no draft anymore and those in the military are volunteers; we could even call them mercenaries, the fight for pay. No one is forcing them.

  188. @n1789 No they don't fight for the pay; it's not that great, certainly not enough to face death. They volunteer and fight for our nation out of a sense of duty. Ask a veteran if they joined for the pay. You'll be surprised at the answer.

  189. No, the few that actually do fight and don't sit around on bases or do the endless loop of "training school" are fighting for pay. It's a job, just like every other job.

  190. @Yes an Afghanistan war veteran told me the same. He said that most soldiers were bribed into joining and fight for the pay,,0f course they love their country but its money and benefits/,mons

  191. In a 2006 invited talk on strategic culture given before high-level elements of the US national security establishment, Colin S. Gray put it thus: "...[S]erious trouble begins when Americans have to interact with alien societies in unfamiliar terrain... A certainty of material superiority can breed overconfidence and minimize incentives to outthink the enemy... A practical consequence of the messianic, crusading dimension to American strategic behavior, is a self-righteousness that is not friendly, or even receptive, to unwelcome cultural and political facts... The country's culture simply did not register the unwanted Vietnam experience. Cultures, including strategic cultures, are capable of ignoring what they wish to ignore." This dynamic been understood for many years, and yet we persist in our murderous follies. What would a 'progressive' national security policy look like? We are hearing little of substance...

  192. The U.S is blessed with vast oceans East and west and peaceful neighbors to the North and South. Our defense requirements are relatively small. Canada, with a similar situation spends about $20B a year on their military. We spend about $700B a year. For that money, you need wars to justify it all, you need scary evil enemies in the news, and a public lazy or cowardly enough to accept whatever propaganda the government uses. It is unsustainable, but no amount of logic can convince people to give up the false notion that it is all somehow necessary, and noble and virtuous. I am sorry, but the truth is it is mainly a way for defense contractors and oil companies and politicians and generals to make huge profits. 97% of it is, anyway.

  193. Beautifully written. Brutally honest.

  194. These past 20 years the American Embassy in Kabul and ISAF/NATO head quarters shared a wall and nothing else. On the Embassy side excellent food, swimming pool, tennis courts and on the ISAF side only half flags every single day to show respect for the dead soldiers. This war, from day one, has been wasted time - served no purpose - won't change.

  195. "I think it’s safe to say we lost Marja . . ." We have also lost Afghanistan. We send soldiers who accomplish little, frequently die for their troubles and yet the war goes on. Gibbons-Neff's excellent article sums up beautifully and accurately, the futility of "fixing" this broken country. Concern for women, children, human rights, all are left at the roadside. Al Qaeda and the Taliban need only wait before they can continue to terrorize the citizens with bombs are gunfire. A workable plan to free Afghanistan is yet to be formulated and in the meantime, more and more people die. This whole affair is far bigger than just America,

  196. Wonderful writing. Thank you for your service.

  197. I wish the "when will we ever learn" nonsense would just stop. We learned that war is a huge moneymaker. We learned that going to war is honorable. We learned that serving in the military in a pointless war is glorified. Mr. Gibbons-Neff set off on a great adventure, like so many before him and so many after him. Now he writes this sad article, trying to convey his thoughts on this never ending pointless war that he and others will be fighting in their heads. But so few of us really care. I wish you peace, Mr. Gibbons-Neff, but not thanks.

  198. The bottom line is this: when our soldiers go abroad to kill and get killed without knowing why our captains of industry make a lot of money and our politicians reap a lot of benefits. Is there anything more to be said?

  199. Thomas, Much respect and sorrow. The “why” for all of this is surely a horrible conundrum our “leaders” got us into based on philosophy and beliefs unknown to, and apparently meaningless, to those in this foreign culture.

  200. Lovely and oh so sad article. Our kids—like kids since hunter-gatherer times—need their quest for the grail. War has been the traditional big white shining lie of an answer. Doesn’t anyone seriously wonder what would have happened if we hadn’t gone to war? If we had used diplomacy, money, and all the power in the 2001 USA to haul Bin Laden before the world court? If we had tried him and every individual who kills innocents as the criminals they are? Then we could say we stand for something (and save 13 million each Gitmo) and youngsters like our thoughtful honest and eloquent author could go on quests to stop global warming or heal the sick. What is especially sickening about Trump and the Republicans is their insistence that violence—everywhere and all the time, in threat if not in actuality—is the first best and most patriotic solution.

  201. Don’t worry about a conventional war, open your eyes to the real threat of a global nuclear holocaust and the end of 7.7 billion humans on earth. On Sept. 24, 1996, the United States and the world's other major nuclear powers signed a treaty to end all testing and development of nuclear weapons. Do you believe all nations having nuclear capabilities are being good boys and girls? Man will self destruct whether by global warming climate or a global nuclear holocaust. May God protect us from our selves. I've heard of the ultimate "doomsday bomb". Humans use most of their resources for their preoccupation with destruction, and that has impeded man's ability to cure diseases such as Alzheimer's, Ebola, Polio, Lupus Erythematosus, Influenza, Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, Diabetes, HIV/AIDS, Asthma, Cancer, and the common cold.

  202. Other than finding Bin Laden the US had no clear policy in Afghanistan besides turning it into a modernized democracy. Now 18 years later many of the "experts" have determined that accomplishing that in a country that barely exists as a continuous entity would probably take generations of change. The constants are; 1. There is little desire for foreign military presence. 2. The Taliban live there, we don't. Now what?

  203. I was in sixth grade in October 1962 when the Cuban missile crisis had broke out. Standing in the schoolyard at recess I couldn't fathom why we hadn't been sent home. We were told that we would hide under our desks per those drills in the 50's which we never had. Looking back I often wonder what if Russia didn't blink. It wasn't until I was in my 40's that I learned Kennedy blinked agreeing to pull bases out of Turkey and wondering why that wasn't taught in our schools. Even today I don't know if it is. Yet hadn't that compromise been reached as a way for Russia to save face I wonder what the world might look like today. In fact today the weaponry is so much more deadly that tomorrow may be permanently canceled if we failed to reach a compromise next time.

  204. As we ponder the years post 9/11 and the subsequent wars will be our issues to ponder. Unlike my dad and WWII where there is no doubt of the cause or outcome, we will always be left to consider GWOT. As a retired Navy officer, my feelings on that region were in place before 9/11 by my reading, non fiction and also novels such as the fictional but accurate Caravans by Mitchner. It was shaped by 3 deployments to the region and walking the streets knowing that the population didn't want us. It was shaped by the attack on USS Stark for which I was far to close too. It was even shaped by my dad's war college thesis in 1969 which discussed the power vacuum of the British pull out. To be sure, we had to do something about 9/11 but to think we could turn them into a modern democracy was a reach. My post 9/11 feelings tend to come from my time from 2003 on a deployed aircraft carrier. It comes from 2005 through 2010 as the commander of two CONUS activities where I sent 50 sailors to the region. Their experiences varied. I kept in touch with all and talked extensively when they got back. A reservist we sent from San Diego and an officer from PA didn't come back. I considered going myself. I felt I was missing out on the key event of my lifetime. My dad, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, told me not to be stupid. I was doing my part. I need to reread Caravans. It's still as true today as it was when it was written in the 40's.We can't change every aspect of the world.