The Inside Truth About Afghanistan-- Guest Post By Steven Holden
The past week has been hard on all who fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan. For, to talk of one, you must talk of the other. This story will bring you the links between the two and speak of the issues veterans still experience after the war.
First and foremost, we did not have success in Afghanistan because of the lack of foresight of the George W. Bush Administration. On the night he "won" the election over former Vice President Al Gore, I turned to my children’s mom and said, "we are going to go back Iraq." Unfortunately, I was prophetic. After 9-11, there was near unanimous support to go to Afghanistan. NATO, by enacting Article V, were able to topple the Taliban-led government; however, we soon lost the momentum in Afghanistan because my prediction was right-- we went to Iraq. Instead of focusing US and NATO assets on getting the Afghans on their feet, we spent eight years in Iraq chasing oil rights.
Now, I want to say that Saddam Hussein was an evil human being. He committed ethnic cleansing against the Kurds and Turkomen in Northern Iraq as well as the Shias in the South. The world is a better place without him being in power, but we had him contained. He was nothing more than the "Mayor of Baghdad." During the Gulf War, the reason the US and the Allies did not go to Baghdad and unseat him was that they knew that it would create a power vacuum. That is exactly what happened.
Now, why did we go into Iraq? Well, let me tell you, and you probably already know-- money. The number one culprit was former Vice President Dick Cheney. Before the US and its Allies had the country secured, engineers from Halliburton/KBR were "securing" the Iraqi pipeline. Before the right wing talks about ensuring the protection of Iraqi resources, let me emphasize that it was not US nor international allies securing the pipeline, but a private US contractor allied with the former VP. When life support came for service members, civilians, and contractors, that contract went to KBR, a Halliburton subsidiary. I know, because I paid for it. When you would hear the cost of war report on the nightly news, that money was going to the former VP. We wasted seven years in Iraq because of a "cash grab" instead of stabilizing some sort of Afghan government.
Meanwhile, back in Afghanistan, progress was stalled. As a former Army Officer, I can say that the "sexy" deployments were to Iraq, not Afghanistan. Hence, US assets and money were preferred to go to Iraq over Afghanistan. When President Obama redeployed troops from Iraq, under the auspices of current SECDEF and retired General Lloyd Austin, he had an untenable situation in Afghanistan due to shifting political allegiances. We took our eye off Afghanistan, and the President needed to make up time. I know this for a fact because my area of focus at the time was on the Afghanistan/Pakistan region. Therefore, the criticism President Obama got over Iraq and Afghanistan was squarely on the George W. Bush administration.
Now, fast forward to 2018. President Trump began a peace process with the Taliban. To this day, he boasts about that process and starting the withdrawal and making it impossible for President Biden to stop, once you start massive troop withdrawals, it is hard to put the brakes on it. Now, I want to make no mistake, major defense contractors were the big winners in Afghanistan, but Trump sabotaged Afghanistan for any president after him no matter who that would have been. What this left was an entire population of people who sacrificed their safety along with Coalition Forces.
In Afghanistan, the people were caught between the violent, extremist Taliban and the corrupt Karzai/Ghani Governments. Afghanistan should have never been a Presidency, it should have been a Parliament-style government. It fits the tribal culture of Afghanistan better. This is another fault of the Bush Administration. Some of these people who had to deal with this untenable situation were the interpreters, small business owners, and the women and children of Afghanistan. These are some of the people I have been working for years to get out of Afghanistan.
This process, the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program, is how these folks are getting out of Afghanistan. The Trump Administration, under the "reign" of people like Mike Pompeo and Stephen Miller, slowed this process down to a crawl. One of their buddies on the Hill was the ranking member of the House Homeland Services Committee, John Katko, who is my current opponent. You want to know why we had people hanging from the sides of transport aircraft at Hamid Karzai International Airport, look no further than these clowns. I cannot count the number of times I had to call the Embassy to inquire about my interpreters’ packets, as well as those for their families.
The good news is that a number of those interpreters and their families are out of Afghanistan. Three of mine-- Ayoubi, Jawad, and Behzad, are in Fort Worth, Texas with some of their families. The past week I have been doing John Katko’s job and trying to get the rest of their families out of country, as well as others. My female interpreters, two of whom are from the discriminated Hazara people, are both in Europe right now, with one in Copenhagen. We also got some out to Australia. Please, do whatever you can to help get them out. Call your member of Congress and send money to whatever international aid agency you can.
The other piece is please talk to any Afghan or Iraqi vet you may know. It is a hard time for us. I spent almost three years of my life there. We have buddies who died and have Afghan friends who are still there trying to get out. Reach out to them. Give those vets space to tell their stories.