US veterans reflect on 20-year conflict in Afghanistan

Two Afghanistan veterans said many soldiers have mixed feelings about how the 20-year conflict in Afghanistan unfolded this week, but they both feel that it was worth it – in the way it benefited the Afghan people and protected the United States from terrorism.

Former Army Ranger and Retired Staff Sgt. Dan Blakeley said “a lot of veterans’ process is different” when it comes to thinking about the conflict. He interviewed dozens of veterans for a book he co-authored about Afghanistan, “The Twenty Year War.”

Blakeley said that while the images coming out of Kabul this week are “gut-wrenching” and “horrifying” he wants veterans, Gold Star families and the American people to know the mission at the time was very important.

“What we did and what we provided to the Afghan population was incredibly valuable to them. We see how much they gained in the last 20 years and I think that’s why it’s so heart-wrenching to see it go back close to the same way it was 20 years ago,” he said.
Retired Staff Sgt. Tom Amenta, who is also a former army ranger and the other author of “The Twenty Year War,” said he wrestled with the question of if the war was worth it for a long time until one of his friends messaged him and provided a different perspective.

Amenta said she pointed out that in those 20 years there hasn’t been another 9/11-style attack in the United States.

He said she told him “at the end of the day, we didn’t fear the things that we’re starting to fear of a resurgence of terrorism in Afghanistan, of the possibility of the next 9/11 after seeing all of this happen – but her point was we haven’t had to worry about that for the past 20 years.”

“So from that metric was it worth it? Yes, it was. Our job was to go out and root those people out and try to keep America safe, and I think that we did a pretty good job of that,” he added.

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