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One of the first casualties of conflict is truth and in the wake of the war in Afghanistan ending two Central Wisconsin veterans are talking to resurrect the concept.
Since the fall of Kabul to the Taliban a number of soldiers across the country and in Marathon County have weighed in on the events. Many have said the collapse of the U.S.-supported government in place prior was inevitable. Dessia Laxton-Reinke of Weston and former Marshfield resident Jacob Widmann expressed similar views when looking back at their time there. Each were in different roles, but much of the songs they had to sing about America’s longest war rang the same.
“Have we seen any repercussions on Bush, Rumsfeld or Cheney? The obvious answer is no,” Widmann, 31, said of those who launched the war he experienced in Eastern Afghanistan from late 2012-13. “Bush is a painter and Ellen’s friend. I am certainly no fan of Trump, Biden or Obama but he should not ever be allowed to talk again to a news outlet other than to give an apology for how wrong he was.”
“I feel like we needed to go to Afghanistan to begin with. They were obviously sending people to attack us,” Laxton-Reinke added about the conflict initially while critiquing later years including her 2008-09 contractor deployment. “Once the mechanisms for training and attacks were dismantled within the first year, we should have left. We built this giant apparatus which became self-serving.”
While the Iraq War’s faults are well-known, mistakes made in the opening salvo of the war on terrorism have only recently received the American public’s attention. A 2019 report from The Washington Post detailed documents from the federal Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s office. These revealed senior officials in the federal government knew the war was unwinnable while they worked to hide this view from the public and a recent publication was as critical.
“Ignorance of prevailing social, cultural and political contexts in Afghanistan has been a significant contributing factor to failures at the strategic, operational and tactical levels,” the most recent lessons learned release from the above-cited office led by John Sopko reads. “As the United States would discover, efforts to build western-style governance institutions simply empowered malign actors. Consequently, a number of key local allies of the United States – some of whom themselves had been deposed by the Taliban to widespread applause – often actively countered U.S. efforts to foster good governance and economic growth.”
Widmann bore witness to such missteps. Time and again policies he saw made him wonder if the United States and its allies were creating new militants and time and again the hierarchical nature of military service made it hard to get concerns heard.
“There was a do as I say and not as I do type of leadership,” he said. “Many of the drone strikes were hitting innocent civilians. It was cast aside as collateral damage or bad intel and honestly, we were creating new enemies there. Just think if any foreign country came to America to take out an entity like the Proud Boys or antifa and they suddenly strike a wedding of 100 innocent civilians. How do you think the relatives of those families are going to feel about this foreign entity now?”
Bi-partisan calls for investigation of the war are swirling in Congress and other legislative bodies around the world. Others in news magazines like The Diplomat have also written about how lessons need to be learned in the wake of this conflict and its sibling in Iraq just like how people hoped lessons would be learned after the Vietnam War, but for Laxton-Reinke, nothing will stick until one key change.
“We need term limits in Congress,” she said. “As long as there is a strong financial incentive to continue war [another Afghanistan] will happen. Haliburton Company and all these guys are in every district. They only make money if we are at war.”
While it is important to discuss and debate the war, many service members and veterans may be in crisis or having thoughts of suicide due to recent events overseas. If you or someone you know is going through this difficulty, contact the Military Crisis/Veterans Crisis line for confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year at 1-800-273-8255 and press one. Texts can also be sent to 838255 and chatting online is available at veteranscrisisline.net/chat.
Top Image: The army of the now-defunct Islamic Republic of Afghanistan neutralizes an IED.
Image via Wikimedia Commons.