Veterans are united on wanting accountability for the war in Afghanistan
Like many of our fellow veterans, we were deeply unsettled by the collapse of the Afghan government to the Taliban after decades of American effort to stabilize Afghanistan. We felt intense sadness and anger when 13 American troops were killed in a bombing outside the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. Several of those killed were just a few months older than the war they were serving in.
The veteran community was hit hard. For 20 years, we made every sacrifice, suffered loss, and did everything we were asked — and it now felt like it had been for nothing. We know our brothers and sisters served honorably and courageously, but watching the fall happen so quickly was disheartening, even if it may have been an inevitable end.
Now that U.S. involvement in the war is over, Congress has rightly begun hearings and investigations. But what we’ve seen so far has been a shortsighted review of the evacuation efforts and partisan bickering that accomplishes nothing.
Our organizations regularly disagree with each other on policy issues. But as veterans, we fought together, bled together, and mourned the losses of our friends together.
That bond unites us without disagreement on this issue: The American people, and especially America’s veterans, deserve a comprehensive investigation into the totality of the Afghanistan War, and accountability for those who instituted, oversaw, and perpetuated its missteps while misleading the American people about the war’s progress.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), a veteran herself, recently introduced a bill that would establish a commission to study the course of the war in Afghanistan, from the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, through the last days of the evacuation, and every strategic move in between.
The proposed Afghanistan War Commission would be tasked with examining all military and diplomatic activities surrounding the war, along with how decisions were made, and what role congressional oversight played during the war. That study would include a diverse set of voices and expertise chosen in a bipartisan manner.
While a completely apolitical and dispassionate commission is beyond the realm of the possible — anyone qualified to serve on such a commission would bring their own prejudices and preconceived notions to the task, and members appointed by lawmakers are, by definition, political – her proposed design is the best available option.
The commission would exclude current and former members of Congress who served during the war in Afghanistan, as well as those who played a direct role in decision-making and operations during the war. This is a sensible choice. Intimate involvement in operations could diminish honest evaluation of how the war played out.
The commission would provide accountability for the war and its coordinators by creating actionable recommendations and an unclassified report at the end of the review. The American public deserves to know exactly how the military and U.S. political leaders conducted America’s longest war and why certain decisions were made.
We believe such a commission would provide invaluable lessons from the last 20 years, to help ensure the United States doesn’t repeat the mistakes that led from early success to ultimate failure in Afghanistan.
We hope to see this commission established and endorse Duckworth’s attempt to attach her provision to the annual defense authorization bill.
But even more, we hope it can play a role in shifting how the United States approaches foreign policy. We can’t afford to ignore the lessons of the past, nor would it honor those who sacrificed their lives in Afghanistan to do so.
Luis Cardona, a U.S. Army veteran, is federal affairs liaison at Concerned Veterans for America.. Will Fischer, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and veteran of the war in Iraq, is a senior adviser to VoteVets.