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Afghanistan Veterans Weigh In On Biden's Announcement To Bring Troops Home


Veterans of America's longest active war are still digesting the news that all troops will be out of Afghanistan by September 11. President Biden announced the move last week. In recent years, many Afghanistan veterans, both Republicans and Democrats, were among the strongest voices calling for the U.S. to leave. But as NPR's Quil Lawrence reports, veterans overall have a range of opinions as broad as the country they served.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Leaving Afghanistan by September 11, a neat and tidy 20 years to the day since the conflict began, that does not impress retired Colonel Tim Kirk.

TIM KIRK: My first reaction was, that's cute. We'll be back soon enough.

LAWRENCE: Kirk thinks, just like Iraq, the U.S. will get dragged back in to deal with radical elements in Afghanistan, which in a nutshell is the national security argument for staying. Kirk has more reasons, though. He served as a specialist on Afghan language and culture, and he made real friendships there - and promises.

KIRK: As someone who considers himself a brother to the Afghan people, we told the Afghans that we were with them (non-English language spoken) - you know, shoulder-to-shoulder. And that's not something you say when you're going to pull out within your lifetime.

LAWRENCE: And leaving now, he says, will almost certainly mean civil war in Afghanistan, much as it was when the U.S. invaded.

KIRK: All the blood and sacrifice that we made up until this point is for nothing.

ESTI LAMONACA: It feels very mixed.

LAWRENCE: Esti Lamonaca also worked closely with Afghan allies as an intelligence analyst.

LAMONACA: I cried when I first heard the news, full disclosure.

LAWRENCE: Those were mostly tears of relief, though.

LAMONACA: It feels to me like a weight was lifted off of my shoulders. I never felt like I could start healing until I knew that every troop was gone.

LAWRENCE: Lamonaca works with Common Defense, a left-leaning veterans organization that has pushed to end the post-9/11 wars.

LAMONACA: Our work there is not done, but there is nothing that U.S. troops could do that we haven't already done in the last 19 years that we've been there.

LAWRENCE: What's been interesting about lobbying to end these wars is that it's not just veterans on the left who are pushing. Afghanistan veteran Will Ruger was President Donald Trump's nominee to be ambassador to Afghanistan. He credits President Trump's Doha agreement for ending the U.S. troop presence.

WILL RUGER: Sticking to the May 1 deal that President Trump had concluded would have allowed us to continue with the casualty-free period that we were in since the Doha agreement. But I do support the president - President Biden in this announcement.

LAWRENCE: Both Ruger and Esti Lamonaca say Biden's decision to pull out wasn't something they took for granted. They intend to keep lobbying until the troops actually do leave. And they agree it was the mission, not the troops to blame. Will Ruger.

RUGER: The troops served honorably and, I think, did their best. But the fact is, is the military is not a tool that's well-suited for remaking a society.

LAWRENCE: Polls show a strong majority support leaving Afghanistan. And on the heels of Biden's announcement, the largest veterans service organization in the country, the American Legion, announced that its nearly 2 million members support bringing the troops home.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.