Afghanistan: for US military leaders, Afghan news strikes a chord

For senior military and Pentagon officials, this week’s news was deeply personal.

The photos and videos coming out of Afghanistan struck a chord and sparked startling flashbacks of the battles fought, the troops lost and the tears shed during their own deployments there. And in a response shaped by their memories and experiences during the war, they urged the troops to watch their friends, talk to each other, and seek help and solace if they need it.

Both top Pentagon leaders have made it clear that the scenes unfolding in Afghanistan, as citizens frantically attempt to escape the country and escape the new Taliban regime, are difficult to watch. And they knew the visions of Afghans struggling to board flights – so desperate that some clung to a plane as it took off – were distressing for the troops.

“All of this is very personal to me. It is a war in which I have fought and fought. I know the country, I know the people and I know those who fought alongside me,” the secretary said. Defense Lloyd Austin, a four year old retiree. – Star Army general who served as commander in Afghanistan in the early years and then headed the US Central Command overseeing the wars in the Middle East as his last post from 2013 to 2016. “We have the obligation. moral to help those who have helped us. And I deeply feel the urgency. ”

General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, commanded troops in Afghanistan and has often spoken of how he felt the loss of every soldier under his watch.

“For more than 20 years, we have prevented an attack on the homeland of the United States. 2,448 lost their lives, 20,722 were wounded in combat, and many more suffered the invisible wounds of war. To each of them, I want you to know, personally, that your service matters, “Milley said.” As the secretary said, for him and me, it’s personal. And I know it’s personal for each of you. ”

Austin said the troops had a wide range of views on the matter and urged them to address it their own way. “We have to respect that and we have to give ourselves the time and the space to help us do it,” he said.

Across the military, many senior officers have toured Afghanistan. They were leading troops into battle. They trained the Afghan forces. And they relied heavily on Afghan interpreters, now threatened with violence by the Taliban, and begging for help to leave the country.

In recent days, these leaders have spoken privately with their staffs and sent sincere public messages to their forces who they know are grappling with a range of emotions: frustration with the takeover of the Taliban after two decades of bloodshed and loss; fears that the Afghans they worked with could come out unharmed; and questions about the importance of their stay in the country.

On Friday morning, General Richard Clarke, chief of the United States Special Operations Command, addressed his entire staff about the situation in Afghanistan. Clarke, who has deployed to Afghanistan several times, has commandos that have toured several times over the past two decades and he noted that it was an emotional time for them. Speaking through an intercom, he urged them to contact their fellow combatants and seek other resources if they needed to speak to anyone.

In a direct letter to his forces this week, General David Berger, commander of the Marine Corps, said it was time to come together. “You have to be proud of your service – it makes sense of the sacrifice of all Marines who have served, including those whose sacrifice was ultimate,” said the letter, co-signed by Marine Sgt. Major Troy Black.

Berger, who deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 as the commander of the 1st Marine Division, also made sure his Marines had information to provide to the interpreters they worked with in Afghanistan who requested assistance. help to evacuate.

And he noted in his post that the Marines may be struggling with a simple question, “Was it all worth it?” The answer, he and Black said, is yes.

Lt. Gen. Jim Slife, commander of the Air Force Special Operations Command, took to his Facebook page to post a note to his commandos who entered and left Afghanistan during the 20 last years. And he recalled the first troops he lost in battle.

“From the start until today, I have been responsible for sending countless endangered airmen there, not all of whom have returned to their families,” Slife said. “In November 2003, I sent home the remains of my teammates and friends following my first deaths as a commander. In May 2011, we killed Osama bin Laden. Ups and downs… downs and ups…. I felt it all. ”

He warned of many difficult days and years to come as troops reflect on their experiences in Afghanistan while facing physical, psychological and moral wounds.

“If, like me, you are trying to put your own experiences into a context that will allow you to move forward in a positive and productive way, I urge you to speak up,” and seek help from a wide range of resources, he said. noted.

General James McConville, Army Chief of Staff, wrote a letter to his staff offering them comfort. Their sacrifices, he said, will be a lasting legacy of honor. And he also begged the troops to ask for help and reach out to their comrades.

“I would ask you to check your teammates as well as our soldiers for life, who may be grappling with the unfolding events,” said McConville, who was in command of troops in Afghanistan. At the bottom of the letter, he scribbled in marker: “Proud to serve with you! ”

Admiral Mike Gilday, chief of naval operations, sent a message to the sailors with a similar request.

“Reach out to those who may be in need and remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of a grateful nation,” he said. “I want to be very clear, your service has not been in vain, and it has made a difference.”

More than 50 organizations have signed a letter offering help to those in need and said people can call the Veterans Crisis Line and Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.


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