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Thanks JVL for sharing this article. I was married to a Vietnam War vet, and the daughter of a WWII and Korean War vet. I don’t believe my dad ever talked about his experience and is no longer around for me to ask. I forwarded this article to my ex and he said “great read” and then joked his experience as a buck Sargent was much different upon return than the Lieutenant Colonel because of their level of responsibility. I don’t remember asking him enough about his experience in Vietnam. This article brought me to tears many times. I wish every American would read it.

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Off topic....but a JVL "out of the box" thought/question?? Let's say Liz does decide to run to keep Trump from winning 2024...lots of IFs in this..If Liz runs, If Trump runs, If Trump is the nominee, etc...but if those things happens, I wonder how much Liz may pull away some moderate/conservative Dems which could help a Trump? And rather than Liz run as a presidential candidate the "out of the box" idea could be what about Liz as the VP on a Dem ticket? And if so, who'd be best on the top of that ticket?

Heads might explode in the progressive caucus but.....we can dream, huh??

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Good piece.

I understand that there are many who were true believers that were shocked by the chaos and rapidity with which Afghanistan fell. My initial reaction is that I don’t understand the surprise or anger. It’s always been a brutal failure. Though that initial feeling isn't fair nor is it compassionate to my brothers and sisters.

The more I think about it maybe I was “lucky” because my own service in Iraq and Afghanistan gave me this perspective early. I’m a pilot who flew transport helicopters and airplanes. I flew the wounded. I flew the dead. I have a list of each person I had the honor carrying on part of their last journey home. It comes out once a year (even though I have it memorized) on Memorial Day when I reflect. The image of a kid in their late teens crying their eyes out as they load their best friend onto my plane is tattooed on my psyche. The IDF and SAFIRE always felt like just another part of the job, but carrying our angles/heroes exposed to me the futility of our efforts in stark terms.

There’s a point in every divorce when you know it’s over. Knowing earlier than your partner doesn’t spare you the pain or heartache it simply puts it on a different timeline. We were breaking up with Afghanistan on my last deployment a decade ago. Despite that I’m currently wiping the tears from my eyes writing this. Moral injury.

The GWOT has been a 20 year failure of policy that’s suffered mainly from the inattentive nature of the American electorate. No one knew and no one cared. There are 4 administrations that share unequally in the blame for how the wars were conducted and ended. Now we’re where my father’s generation was after his service in Vietnam: not repeating the same mistakes. I hope we remember.

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I never served in the 'Stan. I was injured in Somalia.

But, it felt a lot the same. Boredom and intensity.

But, this one feels different. I hate (and LOVE) these articles. They remind me to never forget. The friends, the lost ones, playing spades. I Fwording despise what we did to these people. We could have had a better plan. We both know it.

A divorce ain't gotta be so nasty. We can plan together for a better outcome. We could have kept Bagram in tact to protect these lost souls. We could have protected our friends and family that never knew a time without Uncle Sam (L. Jackson) watching over them.

A 1 year marriage divorce. Yeah, all day, I've been there. A divorce after 20+?

We need to be the adults.

Also, I am not trying to shit post on you. I appreciate your comment and perspective.

This really gets me moving though.

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It’s all love, post your thoughts.

One quibble: Keeping Bagram is a terrible talking point. It’s 40 miles from Kabul and there are only 2 roads. Executing the NEO from the city of Kabul at least gives those seeking asylum the opportunity to fade into the anonymity of the urban population. The town surrounding Bagram is about the size of Longview, TX. Anyone moving along the 2 highways to the airbase would be a target.

We’ve proven our OTH capability to take out terrorist when we unleashed the Bass-o-matic on al-Zawahiri. So we don’t need Bagram for that either.

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Great point. I never served there so I am talking from interest and not intelligence.

I appreciate the breakdown. I didn't know how secluded it was.

I will still stand by my original point that abandoning the best of them is a shame.

Thank you for sharing your real knowledge. It has helped me understand better.

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founding

Thank you so much for sharing this. In a world filled with so much misery, the stories of Afghanistan, including Will's, never fail to move me to tears. Every single time.

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Thank you JVL. Every American needs to read Will's story. I have never understood or even thought about what these men and women go through. They need all of our love and support. They also need every bit of money the government can allocate to assist them in their future mental and physical needs.

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founding

Thanks Will for sharing your thoughts and very raw emotions. This twenty-year war and the withdrawal have left a real stain on our history.

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Jonathan, thank you so much for running Will’s story. It had me in tears. It should have everyone in tears! These Afghans were our friends, our allies and we’ve simply abandoned them. Even those who succeeded in getting to the the United States face all kinds of bureaucracy as they face getting Green Cards so they can stay. Does President Biden know about this? Why can’t more be done? What kind of people are we?

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I know some men who served in Afghanistan. This essay has opened my eyes into their troubled world and given me some words to speak. Thank you.

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Lt Col Selber, after drying my eyes from reading this article, I am drawn to the final set of paragraphs about your wife and daughter. I am glad to see the family man is finally able to come out. They need you as much as you need them, so grow that closeness and enjoy this family time.

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founding
Aug 15, 2022Liked by Jonathan V. Last

Lt Col Selber...I'll not offer you a gratuitous "Thank you for your service". Rather, let me simply and sincerely say thank you for being the man that your words and actions indicate that you are... a man of duty, and just as - if not more - importantly, a man of honor.

You have spoken of feeling shame. But your words attach the shame that accompanies the actions this nation sometimes takes toward its allies and friends exactly where it belongs, and nowhere else. And that is with all of us who, in ways both large and small, fail to be bulwarks of the defense of our country's honor.

That a disclaimer appears at the end of your words here today that states "The views expressed here are [your] own and do not reflect the *official* [emphasis mine] policy or position of the Air Force or the Department of Defense", and by extension the government to which they answer, speaks volumes about honor, considering what you have written here. And by my lights, if they are to be taken literally, I don't much care for what they have to say about it.

God bless you, sir. And your family. And all those still working to mitigate the harms our lack of honor have caused.

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Thank you for saying that- I struggled all day with a response, and you nailed it.

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Aug 15, 2022Liked by Jonathan V. Last

This touching first party narrative is what The Bulwark does best, bipartisan accountability. Afghanistan and our chaotic departure was the product of mis handling by multiple administrations. Trump and Biden raced for the exits like Pontus Pilate washing his hands. No exit strategy or concern for those left behind was evident. The tragic results are demonstrated every day, albeit by smaller headlines and stories, as we try to pretend it isn’t happening.

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Yes, agree that these first person nonpartisan accounts are so important. Read this almost first thing this morning and it also moved me to tears and stayed with me all day. And I agree with so many of the comments here that it was disgraceful on many levels how we pulled out - and I also was very disappointed with how President Biden handled the fallout in his media appearances. But also in some ways this piece also prompted me to think about how necessary it was to withdraw - because we had no business putting our fellow citizens in these impossible situations, with no hope of truly achieving transformative change in this country we understood so little about and where, while there were and are clearly so many people who hope for better and are willing to work hard for it, they seem to be hopelessly outpowered by malignant forces. What is that saying, 'the Americans have the watches but we have the time.' So while I have many issues with the way the withdrawal was handled and believe we could have and should have done better, I also have more respect for the decision to not 'kick the can' further on the road to the next administration.

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On another topic, JVL, I am very interested in your take on two pieces taking different views on Ford's pardon of Nixon and considering how that relates to Trump, one right here of course https://www.thebulwark.com/trumps-investigation-miscalculation/

and one in the Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/08/15/nixon-presidential-pardon-trump/

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The profound tragedy of Afghanistan will haunt us always. This summer I met a young man from Croatia who had served in Afghanistan and returned haunted and battling PTSD. He was on his honeymoon and he, his new wife, and I talked for a long time about the cruelties of Afghanistan. Now, this piece has brought all of that and more back again. Thank you for sharing your story. It helps me to understand a bit of what we were fighting for and the principles of a country dedicated to the rule of law and democracy that are worth fighting for. I only hope that along with all other emotions and pain, you remember the friendships and, hopefully, the seeds of hope you have buried along with your comrades. Seeds don't die. They wait in the ground until it's the right time to sprout. Not all Americans have "moved on." Indeed, many of us here are fighting to keep the same principles you fought for and many of your friends died for, alive and well here at home. It is the least we can do.

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At times, it not only seems the least we can do, but all we can do. These are frightening times in our country.

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Joe Biden bungled the withdrawal from Afghanistan, and that debacle will rightly cling to his memory. Biden was dealt a terrible hand, and while he played it like an amateur, playing it well would only have made things marginally better. In our horror at the most recent failure, we must not lose sight of the real author of the Afghanistan Disaster: George W. Bush.

It was George W. Bush who put the Afghanistan war, the war we HAD to win, on the backburner in order to wage a war of choice in Iraq. It was George W. Bush who diverted resources, troops, and attention from a fight for our national interests to a personal vendetta. It was George W. Bush who left us with two disasters, and ultimately the terrorists back in charge in Afghanistan after twenty years of blood and suffering. And he lied to us and to the world to make it happen.

Let us never forget any of this.

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I hate to say this especially to Vets but if you look at wars we have fought, there are all manner of loose ends. With Afghanistan we also were dealing with a land locked Asian nightmare.

So sorry. No we could not do it better. Yes we could have tried to stay and if we succeeded all we would have done is used our brute force to shut the Taliban down. But we would never have made a nation out of these people. Nor would we have stopped the endless violence all over Afghanistan - much by our side.

What the Vets were was betrayed - by every colonel and general and by everyone else who told them it was going ok.

Biden was willing to do the right thing and suffer the consequences.

Maybe next time we need to think harder about war. The Ukraine is an example - we started very cautiously and only committed when it was clear we could trust the people fighting.

I knew a soldier who gave out bundles of cash to Afghans in 2003 to give up others. I never asked him about whether he believed that the ones turned over were the terrorists we were looking for. I know for the most part they were just the unlucky saps. It was a foolish endeavor started by a president who was not a smart as he thought and whose advisors were even less smart than he thought - including Dick Cheney.

In economics you try not to spend good money after bad.

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Yes, I cried. I still have tears in my eyes. What can we do now? How can we do it? The politicians are gonna politick. So let’s be honest, it’s up to us. Indeed, we are the ones who owe. 

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