Since it began in 2001, the war in Afghanistan has become increasingly disconnected from our safety and America’s national interest. As a special operations veteran who fought in Afghanistan and lost friends to the conflict, that is difficult to admit. But if our nation desires to move past our current perpetual state of war, we must reconcile this truth and commit to ending the conflict.

President Donald Trump and his administration deserve praise for their efforts to end our “forever war” in Afghanistan. The agreement recently signed between the United States and the Taliban lays out a reasonable timeline for withdrawing all our troops from Afghanistan, just as the president signaled a commitment to do. However, a withdrawal needed to happen regardless of whether we were able to hammer out the agreement that was signed Feb. 29.

Our initial operations in Afghanistan were more than justified. The attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, killed thousands of Americans, and retribution was warranted. U.S. objectives were straightforward: Dismantle al-Qaida’s central branch, punish the Taliban for harboring it and eliminate Osama bin Laden.

We had largely accomplished the first two objectives by 2011 when we killed bin Laden in Pakistan; he had primarily operated outside Afghanistan after his narrow escape from U.S. forces in late 2001.

Soon after the invasion, mission creep unnecessarily expanded American objectives with increasing humanitarian and nation-building commitments. This sucked us into a conflict that has spanned two decades without a clear path to victory, robbed us of more than 2,400 American lives and cost taxpayers over a trillion dollars.

While our military has fought courageously, warfighters can only take so much. Creeping toward our 20th year of war, the U.S. military community has carried a heavy burden, and signs point to the reality that it is losing patience with the status quo.

Signs of combat burnout began long ago but have not been taken seriously. Military recruitment has often faced challenges following 9/11, contributing to a manning crisis that inhibits military effectiveness. Polling shows that veterans and the general public no longer believe our current conflicts are worth fighting. None of this is surprising when we consider our service members have voluntarily risked their lives in the same combat zones over and over again.

Some political commentators and policymakers argue that the U.S. should continue waging the Afghan war, either to counter terrorism or to continue the delusional effort to turn Afghanistan into a liberal democracy.

We must deal with the world as it is, not how cable news pundits spin it. As part of that outlook, the primary duties of U.S. foreign policy should be to defend America and advance our interests. The current nation-building mission in Afghanistan falls far outside that scope and distracts from more pressing national security priorities.

America’s best and brightest have served valiantly in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere over the past two decades. Many have given the ultimate sacrifice. As a veteran, I firmly believe this sacrifice is best honored by making the right decision for our national interest. That means leaving Afghanistan.

Withdrawing our forces is not an admission of failure. Instead, it’s a recognition we won the war we needed to fight, and it is in our best interest to come home.

In his State of the Union address in 2019, President Trump proclaimed, “Great nations do not fight endless wars.” He is right. And while the recent agreement is a significant step toward a postwar future, it is important to remember we do not require permission from the Taliban or the Afghan government to bring our troops home to their families.

As the most powerful country in the world, we would do well to remember that our foreign policy should always put our safety and national interest first. Hopefully, the end of our involvement in the Afghan war is the beginning of a move toward that vision and away from the failure of the last two decades.

 

Nate Anderson is executive director of Concerned Veterans for America and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. On Twitter: @natejanderson.