Tag Archives: Afghan War

9/11 reminds me why I am glad we left

The commemorations we have witnessed today as the nation marks the 20th year since the 9/11 attacks have taken us — in my mind at least — on a dual-track remembrance.

I am reminded of how unified we were immediately after the attacks. President Bush called us to arms to fight the terrorist network that launched the attack. We stood behind the wartime president … for a time.

Then he took us into Iraq. The Iraq War was launched on false pretenses. We invaded a sovereign nation, removed a hated dictator and then got bogged down in another conflict with no clear motive for engaging the Iraqis in the first place.

We took our eyes off the key enemy: the Afghan terrorists.

President Bush infamously said at one point during his time in office he didn’t think much about Osama bin Laden. His successor, President Obama, made it the nation’s mission to bring justice to the mass murderer. Our special forces did so in May 2011.

Yet the war in Afghanistan dragged on.

And on and on …

Which brings me to the second track. President Biden ended that war. I am more glad today than ever that he acted when he did. It is true the withdrawal could have been executed more cleanly. But our troops are off the battlefield.

We have removed the world of thousands of terrorists. No, they aren’t exterminated. Others have stepped up to replace them. Indeed, the Afghan War had turned into a never-ending struggle against an enemy that cannot possibly be wiped off the face of the planet.

However, we retain — throughout unsurpassed military and intelligence capability — the ability to search out and destroy anyone who intends to do us harm the way Osama bin Laden did on 9/11.

May always remember the attacks of that horrific day. May we also always remain alert to the danger that lurks.

However, let us also avoid the kind of quagmire — and that’s what it became in Afghanistan — that always exacts too heavy a price.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

9/11 stands alone

Americans are getting ready to commemorate one of the nation’s darkest days that, ironically, unfolded before us under cloudless sunny skies.

It was 20 years ago that two jets flew into the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York City, while a third jet plowed into the Pentagon and as a fourth jetliner plummeted into a Pennsylvania field as passengers grappled with terrorists in an effort to retake control of the aircraft.

The day is now known simply as “9/11.” You say those numbers and everyone on Earth knows what you mean.

The terrorists awakened us to a threat we all knew instinctively was out there. The pain of watching the towers collapse, of knowing that the plane had damaged the Pentagon and of recalling the bravery of the passengers on that jetliner battling with the terrorists remains burned indelibly.

The monsters acted in the name of a religion. They weren’t practitioners of Islam. They were religious perverts. President Bush told us days later that we would not go to war against Islam, but against the monsters who perverted a great religion for their own demented cause.

We sought to eliminate the threat in Afghanistan by launching a war against al-Qaeda in October 2001. The war continued until just the other day, when President Biden called a halt to a “forever war.” Along the way we managed to kill thousands of terrorists. We disrupted al-Qaeda’s network.

And, yes, we managed to find and kill the 9/11 mastermind, Osama bin Laden.

I want us all to recall the heroes who rose to the challenge on 9/11. They sought to rescue those trapped in the WTC rubble, and at the Pentagon. We should honor the men and women who suited up for military duty to fight the terrorists abroad. We always must honor the memories of those lost in that horrific act of hatred.

Even though we have ended our fight in Afghanistan, we also should know that the fight against international terror must continue. The monsters won’t go away all by themselves. Our intelligence network must remain on the highest alert levels imaginable … 24/7. Our military must be prepared to act proactively to stem future attacks.

Twenty years later, our hearts still hurt at what we saw and heard.

May we never forget the pain.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Afghanistan: Will it get better?

A young friend of ours came over this afternoon to wish us a happy 50th anniversary.

We sat in the living room and he turned back to face me and asked: What do you think about Afghanistan?  He meant the withdrawal, of course, which he described as a “mess.”

I didn’t know quite how to respond. I did not — I do not still — want to offend our young neighbor; he is too sweet of a young man and I don’t want to end up on his “bad side.”

All I could come up with was that the commander in chief, President Biden, had no choice but to end a war that had dragged on for two decades. “To what end does he stay in the fight?” I asked. I reminded our young friend that we had fought there for more than two decades. Do they keep fighting?

My friend smiled. We both changed the subject.

The inglorious end to an inglorious war is bound to bring friends to a rhetorical dead end when the subject comes up. My young friend and I agreed that it will take time for this post-Afghan War period to sort itself out.

I will continue to hope for the best outcome, which I hope means we can keep our eyes and ears dialed in to the nth degree and listen and look for any signs of trouble from the Taliban or any terrorist organization that seeks to do us harm.

My hope, then, is that we keep the drones armed and ready to strike.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Putin has it right, strange as that seems

Leave it to Russian strongman/dictator/killer Vladimir Putin to put our Afghan War effort into some sort of semi-reasonable and rational perspective.

“The result is one tragedy, one loss… American troops were present in this region, and for twenty years they tried to civilize people, and to introduce their own norms and standards of life in the broadest sense… including in the political organization of society,” Putin said. “The result is zero, if not to say that it is negative.”

He should know. Putin was a big-time spymaster while Russia was known as the Soviet Union, and during the time the Soviet Union sent troops into Afghanistan to seek to defeat those who opposed the Marxist regime that ran the country in the1980s.

Putin: U.S. Has Nothing, “Zilch” To Show For 20 Years Of Occupation Of Afghanistan | Video | RealClearPolitics

The communists fared no better than our forces did during the 20 years Americans fought there.

Which to my way of thinking tells me that President Biden made the right call when he ended our military engagement.

Hmm. Imagine that. President Biden and Vlad Putin agreeing on something. Who knew?

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Taliban ‘declare victory’

It is worth asking: Will the Taliban, who have “declared victory” against the United States, assume a more charitable relationship with their former battlefield adversary … in the manner that Vietnamese have done with former American servicemen and women?

Our military engagement in Afghanistan has ended. The Taliban have pranced around Kabul and other cities proclaiming that they “defeated” the United States. I get how they can make that declaration, even though their battlefield losses were horrific during the 20 years we fought them. Then again, so were the Vietnamese pounded on the battlefield back then, too. Yet they persevered and were able assume control of a government we fought to defend and preserve.

The Taliban have declared victory. Now they must reckon with a country freefalling into chaos (msn.com)

I don’t know about any parallels between then and now. The Taliban are driven by a deep religious fervor steeped in Islamic fundamentalism. The North Vietnamese were driven by a communist ideology that had nothing to do with religion. 

In 1989, I had the honor of returning to Vietnam 20 years after I reported for duty in that long-ago war. The editors with whom I was traveling and I flew from Bangkok to Hanoi for the first leg of our Vietnam tour. We then flew a few days later from Hanoi to what once was known as Saigon but is now called Ho Chi Minh City … named after Uncle Ho.

I remember getting off the plane, boarding a bus and then riding to our hotel. I got off the bus and was greeted — along with my traveling companions — by a gentlemen who asked some of us if we had served there during the Vietnam War. Some of us said “yes,” to which the gentleman said — while smiling broadly — “Welcome back to our country.” 

I found that to be a moving welcome and it portended the kind of relationships we were able to build during our brief time touring Vietnam.

Will any of that be available over time to returning Afghan War vets? Time will tell. I hope for their sake they are able to return to a country that so saw much hell over the span of time we fought there.

That will depend, of course, on whether the Taliban can set aside their religious fervor. Therein lies a fundamental difference between then and now.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Service ‘not in vain’

A critical point I sought to make in an earlier blog post needs to be buttressed a bit given the criticism that continues to pour in over the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley has informed us what many of us already knew. Which was that the service of the men and women in Afghanistan and Iraq “was not in vain.”

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said this about our withdrawal from the field of battle: “We have just concluded the largest air evacuation of civilians in American history. It was heroic. It was historic.”

To say these individuals “died in vain” is to slather a hideous insult over the heroism many of them displayed. I am one proud American veteran who will not sit still while others suggest that the service performed in Iraq and Afghanistan was flushed away, that it was all for naught.

No one ‘dies in vain’ fighting for one’s country | High Plains Blogger

The men and women of our armed forces followed lawful orders from the top of the chain of command. They served through four commanders in chief. They fought hard and they fought with valor. Some of them received our nation’s highest military commendations, including the Medal of Honor. Do we dare suggest that these recipients performed their heroic acts “in vain”? Or that their comrades died in vain?

“Your service mattered, and it was not in vain,” Gen. Milley said. “We will continue to evacuate American citizens under the leadership of the Department of State as this mission has now transitioned from a military mission to a diplomatic mission.”

And so the mission continues, but in a different form.

I participated for a time in a war that didn’t end well for the United States of America. The Vietnam War ended with chaos, confusion and panic. Yes, there were those who said the 58,000 Americans who died in that war perished “in vain.” They, too, were as wrong as they could be.

Their service mattered as well. As did those who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. They all have earned our nation’s gratitude.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Rumor hot spots keep flaring

As the United States moves into a post-war world now that it has pulled out of Afghanistan, the Biden administration is left to extinguish right-wing-generated rumor-mill hot spots.

Such as the one about us supposedly leaving $83 billion worth of military equipment for the Taliban to use, possibly against Americans or our allies.

The rumor is false.

That won’t stem the fake news coming from the mouths of conservative politicians and media personalities. They keep harping on the equipment left behind. They suggest that the Taliban is now the second-best equipped military force in the world — behind the U.S. of A.

According to The Associated Press:

Their $85 billion figure resembles a number from a July 30 quarterly report from SIGAR, which outlined that the U.S. has invested about $83 billion to build, train and equip Afghan security forces since 2001.

Yet that funding included troop pay, training, operations and infrastructure along with equipment and transportation over two decades, according to SIGAR reports and Dan Grazier, a defense policy analyst at the Project on Government Oversight.

“We did spend well over $80 billion in assistance to the Afghan security forces,” Grazier said. “But that’s not all equipment costs.”

In fact, only about $18 billion of that sum went toward equipping Afghan forces between 2002 and 2018, a June 2019 SIGAR report showed.

FACT FOCUS: Trump, others wrong on US gear left with Taliban (msn.com)

Is that the end of it? Hardly. It only goes to underscore the public-relations battle that awaits the Biden team as it tries to keep this withdrawal in its proper perspective.

Political snipers taking pot shots

The political sniper squad is at it hot and heavy.

They are suggesting that President Biden will be a one-termer. That his “performance” in announcing the U.S. withdrawal from the Afghan field of battle has sealed his political fate. They suggest the voters have lost “confidence” in his leadership.

Hmm. Allow me this pithy response: Bullsh**!

The president ended an unwinnable war. Our armed forces executed the evacuation of more than 100,000 Americans and Afghan allies.

We fought al-Qaeda for two decades. We killed the monstrous mastermind behind the 9/11 attack — which is why we went to war in the first place. The Taliban had revived itself long before Joe Biden took office. President Biden’s predecessor negotiated a withdrawal with the Taliban; he set a May 1 evac date, but he lost re-election in November.

President Biden was dealt a bad hand when he took office. Dare I mention, too, that his predecessor provided him with zero national security intelligence because, um, he is continuing to insist that the 2020 election was “stolen” from him?

So, for the first time in two decades, we have no Americans on a battlefield anywhere on Earth.

I could swear as well that I heard President Biden declare his intention to hold the Taliban accountable for the pledges they made in ensuring safe passage for any American still in Afghanistan who wants out. I also heard him say our intelligence forces will be on the highest alert possible for any potential terror threat that may surface in Afghanistan … or anywhere else in the world.

Lost confidence? This drama has yet to play out fully.

We have a pandemic that well could be eliminated in the months ahead. And, oh yes, our economy continues to produce jobs at a record-breaking rate.

All that said, I am not going to join the amen chorus that suggests that Joe Biden tenure as president is toast.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

Recalling an expert on Afghanistan

Charles Nesbitt Wilson’s name isn’t likely to pique many people’s interest.

If you say “Good Time Charlie,” or just plain ol’ “Charlie Wilson,” then we’re talking. I am thinking of Charlie Wilson today as the nation watches its longest war end in Afghanistan.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson was a Texas Democrat and a bona fide expert on Afghanistan, its politics, its people and its struggles against foreign powers. He died in February 2010 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

I knew Wilson because of my work from 1984 until 1995 as editorial page editor of the Beaumont Enterprise. Wilson represented the Second Congressional District, which at the time included vast stretches of Deep East Texas territory where the newspaper circulated. Thus, he was one of our sources for issues relating to Congress. He and I knew each other well. I respected him greatly; I hope he thought well of the work I did on behalf of our readers.

Before he died, and before he retired from Congress in 1996, Wilson spent much of his career in public life seeking federal assistance to fighters seeking to rid themselves of Soviet domination of Afghanistan.

Wilson rode donkeys through the Khyber Pass with fighters who — regrettably — became the precursors to al-Qaeda. They were called the mujahadeen. They wrote a book and later produced a film called “Charlie Wilson’s War”; indeed, Wilson told me he was thrilled to be portrayed by Tom Hanks in the title role.

In the days after 9/11, I called Wilson at his East Texas home to get his reaction to what happened to us on that terrible day. We spoke for a long time over the phone and Wilson warned me at the time that we were in for the fight of our lives if we chose to go to war in Afghanistan. He knew of which he spoke. He sought congressional aid for the fighters doing battle against Soviet soldiers who invaded their country to prop up the Marxist government.

What might he say about the end of our war in Afghanistan? I am guessing he wouldn’t be shy about saying something like: I told you so. I told you it would be a hard fight. I told you that the Taliban wouldn’t just surrender and disappear from face of the planet.

Charlie Wilson wasn’t particularly bashful about imparting the knowledge he accrued over his years in Congress. I bear him no ill will. As far as Afghanistan is concerned, Rep. Wilson earned the right to rub our noses in it.

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com

It’s over … finally!

Say whatever you wish about the end of the Afghan War.

That we can declare an end to our fighting there is in itself a moment worth saluting. Our longest war came to an end this morning when the last C-17 transport jet took off from Kabul airport, cleared Afghan air space and we declared an end to our evacuation of all U.S. citizens and allies who wanted out.

I have said since we went to war in Afghanistan 20 years ago that there could be no way for us to “declare victory” in the way we were able to do, say, at the end of World War II. Our military brass accepted the terms of surrender of enemy forces in 1945; the fighting stopped and we danced in the streets from coast to coast.

There would be no such celebration after the Korean War, certainly not after the Vietnam War, nor after this war.

Indeed, our war against terrorism is likely to persist, but without the hackneyed “boots on the ground” fighting a cunning enemy.

I will stand with President Biden’s decision to end this war. He knew what his three presidential predecessors — George W. Bush, Barack H. Obama and Donald J. Trump — couldn’t understand. It was time to end a war that had gone badly not long after it started in the wake of the 9/11 attack.

President Bush went to war after 9/11 intending to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban government. He succeeded. He vowed to get the men responsible for the attack on New York and Washington. That task fell eventually to Obama’s national security team that killed Osama bin Laden in May 2011. Trump’s team got the leader of the Islamic State.

One thing remained constant. The Afghan War kept on going.

Joe Biden took over in January. He assessed the return on the investment we were getting in Afghanistan and determined it was time to end it. Now! So … he did.

Those who write the history of this big day will need time to evaluate all the nuance attached to it. I am going venture out on that limb and presume that history will look more kindly than President Biden’s critics are viewing this landmark day in real time.

It’s over. Thank God in heaven!

johnkanelis_92@hotmail.com