‘You can’t get those lives back,’ said my brother, who served in Afghanistan. ‘You have to stop the bleeding’

Not one more American life or limb should be sacrificed for the dead-end occupation of a lost cause.

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American soldiers escort evacuees at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 20.

AP Photos

The fallout from the United States departure from Afghanistan has been brutal. No surprise there, given the 9-11 brutality that launched our 20-year occupation.

But our military withdrawal and the subsequent chaos it has caused in Afghanistan has left some veterans disappointed, angry and bereft.

On Monday, a friend and U.S. Army veteran forwarded me a missive he received from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

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“Veterans from all eras are reacting to the events in Afghanistan, such as the U.S withdrawal and the takeover by the Taliban,” the email read. “You are not alone. Veterans may question the meaning of their service or whether it was worth the sacrifices they made. They may feel more moral distress about experiences they had during their service.”

The message offered copious advice and resources to help veterans cope, from a suicide phone line to a mental health resources guide.

The media is chock-full of stories about soldiers who are second-guessing their service.

Since the invasion of Afghanistan launched in October 2001, 1,897 United States military personnel have been killed in action there, according to a July 2021 report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction. Another 415 have died from non-hostile causes. More than 20,000 of our soldiers have been wounded.

We owe all our soldiers an unpayable debt.

I am blessed to have military veterans in my family. My late father, Andrew N. Washington Sr., served in Korea. His brother, Lionel J. Washington Sr., age 102, is a World War II veteran who served on Iwo Jima. My brother, Andrew N. “Drew” Washington Jr., served in the Army for 21 years, including service in Afghanistan just months after 9/11.

Drew is now retired from the Army but clear-eyed about his service. 

Were all those lives wasted? I asked my brother last week.

“What I would say about lives wasted is: You can’t get those lives back. You can’t get that time back,” he replied. “You have to stop the bleeding.”

What matters most now is getting our people on to those transport planes at the Kabul Airport and out of Afghanistan. Every one of the thousands of American citizens and soldiers who remain in that tortured place.

“It’s about American lives, period,” Drew said.

There has been abundant criticism of how President Joe Biden has managed the Afghanistan dilemma. Some say the Biden Administration should not have withdrawn our troops until the Taliban and Afghan government committed to work together to unify the nation. Others argue the United States should have evacuated Americans, our allies and the Afghans who have helped us months ago. 

Biden has bungled the withdrawal, for sure. But it was time to go. We had to go.

“It’s easy to be an armchair general. It’s easy to say what we should have done, what we could have done,” Drew said.

“I still think Biden did the right thing. We can’t support a country that won’t step up for its own.”

Our soldiers have suffered irreparable losses. That pain must end. Not one more American life or limb should be sacrificed for the dead-end occupation of a lost cause.

“Are we gonna continue to lose thousands of Americans to injury and death to try to unite that country?” Biden asked last week during an interview with ABC News.

It’s time to step up for our own.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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