A Veteran Reflects on 20 Wasted Years
By the time you read this, the Taliban may already be in Kabul. If not now, then soon.
Nixon wanted — and got — his decent interval between the United States pullout of Vietnam and the inevitable North Vietnamese takeover. Afghanistan’s interval was never going to be decent, but I confess I expected an interval. We’re scrambling to leave in time, we’re racing for the helicopters as the Taliban burns through Afghanistan like a forest fire.
I remember Afghanistan well. I deployed there twice — once in 2008, and again in 2009–2010. It was already obvious that the Taliban would sweep through the very instant we left. And here we are today.
I know how bad the Taliban is. I know what they do to women and little boys. I know what they’re going to do to the interpreters and the people who cooperated with us, it’s awful, it’s bad, but we are leaving, and all I feel is grim relief.
This is what I remember:
I remember Afghanistan as a dusty beige nightmare of a place full of proud, brave people who did not fucking want us there. We called them Hajjis and worse and they were better than we were, braver and stronger and smarter.
I remember going through the phones of the people we detained and finding clip after clip of Bollywood musicals, women singing in fields of flowers. Rarely did I find anything incriminating.
I remember finding propaganda footage cut together from the Soviet invasion and our own Operation Enduring Whatever. I remember laughing about how stupid the Afghans were to not know we aren’t the Russians and then, eventually, realizing that I was the stupid one.
I remember how every year the US would have to decide how to deal with the opium fields. There were a few options. You could leave the fields alone, and then the Taliban would shake the farmers down and use the money to buy weapons. Or, you could carpet bomb the fields, and then the farmers would join the Taliban for reasons that, to me, seem obvious.
The third option, and the one we went for while I was there, was to give the farmers fertilizer as an incentive to grow wheat instead of opium poppy. The farmers then sold the fertilizer to the Taliban, who…