This past September, we observed the fifteenth anniversary of one of the worst terrorist attacks in American history. On what we now call Patriot Day, the observance of the 9/11 anniversary, we remember that fateful day by honoring the lives of our fallen brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, and children who were taken from us by pure evil. We celebrate our nation’s patriotism and reflect on how that day forever changed our lives, our country, and our world.
One thing we have seemingly forgotten, however, is the war in Afghanistan; a conflict that began fifteen years ago and currently stands as the longest conflict in American history. Yet, it seems the war we engaged in and fought in to avenge the 9/11 attack has slipped from the consciousness of our political debate and public attention.
As the 2016 election draws to a close, I am saddened by the fact that our sacrifices in Afghanistan, past, present and future, haven’t been discussed by the presidential candidates. Even more alarming is that, to date, neither candidate has mentioned condolences of the five American lives lost in Afghanistan in the last four weeks. Whether the candidates believe it or not, the future of Afghanistan will continue to be a key national security concern and should certainly be a priority for our next Commander-in-Chief.
From the onset, our military achieved a swift victory in Afghanistan with the overthrow of the Taliban, putting Al Qaeda on the run, and ensuring the beginning of a democratic future for the Afghan people. We have achieved great things in Afghanistan since the end of the Taliban’s rule, such as helping Afghan children. Before we arrived, fewer than one million children went to school and only 5,000 or so were girls. Today, nearly six million Afghan children are in school and one third of them are girls. They are free to roam the streets and go to school without the threat of retribution by Muslim extremists. As a current major of the United States Air Force, Air National Guard, I am proud of the accomplishments in providing a more stable foundation for Afghanistan’s future.
Unfortunately, the calls by President Obama to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan could put those achievements in jeopardy. Combining fewer troops and the lack of attention our public officials have given to this war, our Armed Forces are at a disadvantage to be successful. President Obama essentially told our enemies that there was an end date to our robust involvement, and it leaves the troops we have in place vulnerable.
Plus, there are continuing signs of destabilization throughout the country.
Afghanistan has seen an increase in the number of terrorist groups operating there. In addition to the Taliban, who currently seeks to recapture the strategically important city of Kunduz, the country is a base for groups like ISIS, Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, the Haqqani Network, and Lashkar-e-Taiba, just to name a few.
While the Afghan Security Forces continue to push back these advances, they still need help. A recent inspector general report stated that the Afghan government lost control of two percent of territory to extremists in just three months. We cannot effectively defeat Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and ISIS without training our allies and engaging with them in the fight against these barbaric terrorists. To do this requires building up the capacity of the Afghan Police and Security Forces to defeat these extremist groups.
Coupled with the precarious instability, the political situation is not fully resolved either. While the agreement to form a National Unity Government in 2014 averted a larger national crisis, there is still tension between President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah. There continue to be complaints of corruption and lack of governance. Additionally, Afghanistan’s economy is struggling. The dismal economic situation and the renewed strength of insurgent groups has caused a swell of refugees to Europe and neighboring countries like Iran and Pakistan. Afghans are the second largest refugee group in the world right now behind Syrian refugees, and while many are currently being forced to return home, they are still listed and recognized as refugees. This is a chaotic, uncertain environment and deserves our attention.
Throughout this presidential campaign, there has been very little mention of our role in Afghanistan. As a veteran, I am deeply troubled by this lack of attention and focus on the war Afghanistan and the status of our men and women in uniform currently serving. Every single day, I am reminded of the U.S. sacrifice in Afghanistan. I wear a bracelet given to me by the widow of the late U.S. Army Spc. Christopher Horton, who served as a sniper in Afghanistan before being tragically killed in action on Sept. 9, 2011. Spc. Horton, whose name is engraved on the bracelet, gave his life to protect our freedom and the freedom of Afghans. It’s important that we remember his sacrifice and the sacrifice of all who serve.
Our mission in Afghanistan is to bring freedom to millions of people against the threat of Islamic Jihadists and extremists. In doing this, we are preventing this place from becoming a haven for terrorism ever again. To falter here is to empower the extremists and put our safety at risk.
As Jan. 20, 2017 approaches, when the 45th President of the United States will be sworn in, I sincerely hope the war in Afghanistan will move back to the top of the national security priority list. To simply forget what we have fought for, and what 10,000 U.S. troops are fighting for right this moment, would be a disgrace to the men and women who have served and sacrificed there over the last fifteen years. We cannot give up, we cannot give in. The future of Afghanistan remains important to the future security of America.
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