American veterans, who had served the US forces deployed in Afghanistan, appear frustrated and feeling agony after Biden administration abandoned Afghans, which facilitated the Taliban to take control of Afghanistan without facing much resistance.
In three tours in Afghanistan, Marine Corps Lt Colonel Natalie Trogus worked with thousands of Afghan women to help build a future for their war-torn country.
“We saw a lot of recent advancements in women’s rights,” a frustrated Trogus said in an interview.
“Now, we’ve abandoned them,” said Trogus whose efforts to warn her superiors at the Pentagon what would happen when the United States pulled out of Afghanistan were frustrated.
“We’ve abandoned our own principles. We’ve abandoned our own law. We’ve abandoned our strategy,” Trogus told Al Jazeera.
Trogus is one of more than 800,000 Americans who served in Afghanistan for whom the sudden fall of Kabul to the Taliban and chaotic evacuation of Americans and Afghan allies has triggered painful emotions.
Veterans across the US reacted as the Taliban rolled into Kabul unopposed and many reached out to each other for support and remembrances of fallen comrades. Many are struggling with doubts about what they were fighting for, why their friends died, and whether it was all useless. Afghans they fought with are now at risk of revenge killings and attacks by the Taliban.
Some are coping to compartmentalise their experiences, acknowledging they were sent to do a job even as they remember losing friends and seeing Afghans suffer.
Matt Helder was a young lieutenant in a US Army 2nd Infantry Division artillery battery in Kandahar in 2012. His best friend Sean was killed by an IED bomb planted by a road.
Now, watching images of the Taliban take over Kabul “has been surreal but not completely unexpected”, said Helder, 33, who recalls seeing weaknesses of the Afghan army.
“We were taking one step forward and two steps back. We were there for a year and then we’d hand it off to the next group,” Helder told Al Jazeera.
The US lost 2,448 servicemen and servicewomen and 3,846 contractors killed in a war that cost upwards of $2 trillion and which now appears to many soldiers to have been largely a failure. More than 20,000 US soldiers were injured.
“I am unbelievably proud of the guys I worked with and I would do it again in a heartbeat,” Helder said.
Adam Weinstein, a former Marine, coordinated air attacks in 2012 for Australian special forces clearing the Taliban out of remote mountain valleys.
From perches on the sides of peaks above, Weinstein could see the battles unfolding below and witnessed the mountains shake when the bombs and missiles hit.
“Sitting back as a young Marine on a mountain, you think, ‘Wow, we have fixed-wing, rotary-wing aircraft flying overhead right now, and we have some of the best-trained soldiers in the valley below, and it’s really just to chase out a few Taliban in this incredibly remote corner of Kandahar’,” Weinstein recalled in an interview.
For Weinstein at the time, it did not make sense. Now 32, he works for a think-tank in Washington, DC, and has come to the view the US should withdraw from Afghanistan.
“The dysfunction we’re seeing in this withdrawal is a continuation of the dysfunction we’ve seen throughout the entire war effort,” Weinstein said.
“It’s metaphor for the entire war effort, which is that our predictions are never completely correct. We think we have more control over the situation than we do,” he said.