Even from a young age, I knew I was bound for the military. I come from a long line of warfighters. Both my grandfathers served in World War II, one in the Pacific and one in Europe. My great uncles fought in Korea. My father fought in Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Serving my country is in my blood.
The events of Sept. 11, 2001, lit a fire in me to carry on my family’s tradition of service. I enlisted in the Navy in 2002 and was off to basic training as the war in Afghanistan passed its first anniversary.
I was grateful for the opportunity to serve at such a critical time in American history and be part of the response to unprecedented attacks on our country. During my enlistment, I deployed to the Middle East and served in Guantanamo Bay. Meanwhile, the anniversaries of the war in Afghanistan kept coming and going.
After my years in the Navy, I decided to return to civilian life. But as is the case for most veterans, war, and its effects, can’t be left behind when the uniform comes off. As the years of war have dragged on, I’ve lost my share of friends. Some died of injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some died after hard-fought internal battles here at home.
This year, we’ll reach the 20th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. That milestone demands reflection, especially from those of us who served and have seen the true cost of our endless wars in Afghanistan and around the world.
I feel as strongly now as I did when I enlisted that the war in Afghanistan was justified when it began in 2001. The United States needed to hunt down Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida for planning and executing terrorist attacks on our shores. We also needed to punish the Taliban for harboring al-Qaida.
But those missions were accomplished in the first few years. We decimated al-Qaida, punished the Taliban, and killed Osama bin Laden. What has happened in Afghanistan since is a separate mission — nation building.
America should be at war only when it serves a vital national interest and when there are clear military goals. Nation building in Afghanistan doesn’t fit either of those criteria.
Our continued engagement in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen and other countries does little if anything to make our country safer. It drains our finances, damages our military readiness, and puts troops’ lives in unnecessary danger.
It’s time to end our nation’s endless wars.
Vast majorities of veterans, military families, and the general public agree. A recent poll commissioned by my organization, Concerned Veterans for America, found 67% of veterans surveyed would support withdrawing all troops from Afghanistan, and 68% support a full withdrawal from Iraq. A majority of military families and the general public would also support such a move.
These numbers tell us that America’s warfighters and their families are tired of war that no longer serves its intended purpose. Service members with multiple deployments under their belts are physically and mentally worn down, though they keep fighting like they aren’t. Military families feel the strain of combat at home both during active duty and the transition to civilian life.
As someone who served, I don’t see withdrawing troops as quitting, as the critics may say. I see calling an end to the war in Afghanistan, and our endless wars in general, as honoring the sacrifices so many have made by putting our country’s and our troops’ interests first.
Ending these endless wars preserves our strength for situations in which it may really be needed, rather than squandering it for no vital reason in endless, unwinnable conflicts.
Those of us who wore the uniform know the true cost of war. We don’t want to see another Afghanistan anniversary go by while our brothers and sisters fight a war that is no longer viable or necessary.
It’s time to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.
Jordon Daniel of Littleton, a U.S. Navy veteran, is coalitions director at Concerned Veterans for America-Colorado.
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