U.S. Marines who successfully fought off Sunni insurgents in Fallujah during the Iraq war almost 10 years ago are reeling from the news that the al-Qaida-linked militants regained control of the city this month
"I texted a couple of friends. Everyone was in disbelief," Adam Banotai, a former Marine sergeant and squad leader involved in the 2004 invasion of Fallujah, told The New York Times.
"I don't think anyone had the grand illusion that Fallujah or Ramadi was going to turn into Disneyland, but none of us thought it was going to fall back to a jihadist insurgency. It made me sick to my stomach to have that thrown in our face, everything we fought for so blatantly taken away," he said.
Fallujah was host to one of the deadliest battles in the Iraq war after nearly 100 Marines were killed and hundreds were wounded. To many, the battle was a defining episode of the 12 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Veterans of that battle are also questioning whether the mission was all for naught, according to the Times.
"This is just the beginning of the reckoning and accounting," Kael Weston, a former State Department political adviser who worked with the Marines in the region for nearly three years, told the Times.
"The news went viral in the worst way. This has been a gut punch to the morale of the Marine Corps and painful for a lot of families who are saying, 'I thought my son died for a reason.'," he said.
Comparisons are also being made to the 1968 battle in Khe Sanh, Vietnam, according to the Times, when the Marine base held out against heavy attacks by the North Vietnamese only to abandon it months later.
Some are blaming Obama for not making more of an effort to keep some troops in Iraq to maintain security, while others say troops were pulled out at the wrong time and for political reasons.
"Lives were wasted, and now everyone back home sees that," Pfc. James Cathcart, a veteran of the Fallujah battle, told the Times. "It was irresponsible to send us over there with no plan, and now to just give it all away."
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