Veterans watch two decades of sacrifice disappear as Afghanistan crumbles

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The speed of the Taliban’s advance across Afghanistan in the past few weeks left US veterans who served in America’s longest war “stunned and dismayed.”

“This one will hurt for a long time, man,” Sean Gustafson, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who deployed to the city of Herat in western Afghanistan from 2006 to 2007, told Stars and Stripes.

Herat, where Gustafson and other troops built schools, fell to the insurgents on Thursday. In just weeks, the Taliban has swept across the country as the US started moving its troops out after 20 years, leaving the vets watching in shock.

Some told the military newspaper that the final days of the US presence should have been handled better.

“A complete pullout is not only unnecessary, it is sabotage,” said Army Staff Sgt. Seamus Fennessy, who fought in Ghazni province in 2010.

Pakistani soldiers stand guard as stranded Afghan nationals return to Afghanistan at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossing point in Chaman on August 14.
AFP via Getty Images
A Pakistani soldier (L) stands guard as stranded Afghan nationals arrive to return to Afghanistan at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossing point in Chaman on August 14
A Pakistani soldier (L) stands guard as stranded Afghan nationals arrive to return to Afghanistan at the Pakistan-Afghanistan border crossing point in Chaman on August 14.
AFP via Getty Images
Taliban fighters sit on the back of a vehicle in the city of Herat, west of Kabul, Afghanistan.
AP Photo/Hamed Sarfaraz

The withdrawal, he said, was “a betrayal of American and international forces who have expended so much in life and limb to prevent the resurgence of the Taliban,” adding that some troops should have stayed in the country.

Other vets were deluged with messages from people they knew in Afghanistan seeking help getting visas to escape.

“Maybe we stayed longer than we should have, but the manner in which we pulled out, it’s just unfortunate, and my heart breaks,” said Christy Barry, who deployed to Afghanistan multiple times as both an Air Force officer and a civilian adviser.

“You pour your heart into it, and at the time, it feels like you’re doing something great and you’re making a difference,” she said. “And looking back on it now, I still feel that way, but it’s with a sadness.”

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