Jason Lilley was a special operation forces Marine Raider who fought in multiple battles in Iraq and Afghanistan was wasted during America’s longest war. As Lilley, 41, reflects on President Joe Biden’s decision to end America’s military mission in Afghanistan on Aug. 31, he expresses love for his country, but disgust at its politicians and dismay at the blood and money squandered. Comrades were killed and maimed in wars he says were unwinnable, making him rethink his country and his life.
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A hundred percent we lost the war, Lilley said. The whole point was to get rid of the Taliban and we didn’t do that. The Taliban will take over. Biden says that the Afghan people must decide their own future and that America should not have to sacrifice another generation in an unwinnable war. Lilley is not alone in reflecting on the US withdrawal after nearly 20 years of war. Many Americans are. The perspectives of Lilley and other veterans can help inform the country about the costs of entering the war and the lessons to be learned from Afghanistan.
Biden’s withdrawal has bipartisan support. A July 12-13 Reuters/Ipsos poll showed only about three in 10 Democrats and four in 10 Republicans believe the military should remain. Lilley and other Marines who served in Afghanistan and who spoke to Reuters compared it with the conflict in Vietnam. They say both wars had no clear objective, multiple US presidents in charge, and a fierce and non-uniformed enemy. Part of Lilley’s support network is Jordan Laird, 34, a former Marine scout sniper who described completing combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, which Laird and others called Vietstan. You have a deeper understanding of the plight of the Vietnam vets who came home with lost limbs and being completely and utterly tossed to one side, said Laird, who now campaigns to improve veteran care.
He served in Sangin Valley in Helmand Province, one of the most fiercely contested parts of Afghanistan, from October 2010 to April 2011. In his first three months, he said, 25 members of Laird’s unit were killed in action and more than 200 were wounded. His best friend bled to death in his arms. While in Afghanistan, Lilley said he grew to understand why historians have called it the graveyard of empires. Britain invaded Afghanistan twice in the 19th century and suffered one of its worst military defeats there in 1842. Lilley spoke to Reuters about his experience in Afghanistan and his thoughts as the US leaves the country. REUTERS/Mike Blake
We are there to eradicate. We can’t do both.
In an email, CENTCOM had no comment about Lilley’s criticisms.
Lilley is vice president of the veteran-operated Reel Warrior Foundation, which gives veterans a chance to break from the struggles of re-adapting civilian life by taking them on fishing trips. We should avoid war at all costs, Lilley said. Don’t rush into the racket of war, into the machine of making money, contracts. A lot of people made a lot of money off of this.
He said it took him years to let go of his anger.
I mean I knew what I was getting into, I mean I grew up on Rambo. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimated in 2012 that 22 US veterans die by suicide each day. This starts with a program called VA Solid Start (VASS), which ensures all veterans returning to civilian life are aware of and have access to an array of help and benefits.
Wimmer said of Afghanistan: By any metric you choose to measure it, it was a fruitless effort. Getting rid of al Qaeda or the Taliban – we didn’t succeed. Increased peace and prosperity for the Afghan people? We didn’t succeed. That’s a really hard thing to stomach.