Soldiers who deployed to Afghanistan over the past two decades say the Taliban’s rapid conquest of much of the country over the past week is shocking — and troubling, Stars and Stripes reported Friday.
"This one will hurt for a long time, man," Sean Gustafson, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who deployed to Herat in western Afghanistan from 2006 to 2007, told the military news outlet.
Herat was captured by the Taliban on Thursday, and as of Friday, the Taliban controlled an estimated two-thirds of the country, according to Stars and Stripes.
The collapse of much of the Afghan military has come weeks before the scheduled Aug. 31 final withdrawal ordered by President Joe Biden. It stems from a peace deal signed by the Taliban and the Trump administration.
But some soldiers blamed the withdrawal for the Taliban sweep.
"A complete pullout is not only unnecessary, it is sabotage," Army Staff Sgt. Seamus Fennessy, who fought in Ghazi province in 2010, told Stars and Stripes.
The withdrawal was "a betrayal of American and international forces who have expended so much in life and limb to prevent the resurgence of the Taliban," he wrote in a Facebook message. "I am disgusted."
Other members of the military said the withdrawal puts their Afghan friends and co-workers in danger.
"Maybe we stayed longer than we should have, but the manner in which we pulled out, it’s just unfortunate, and my heart breaks," Christy Barry, who deployed to Afghanistan multiple times as both an Air Force officer and a civilian adviser, told Stars and Stripes.
"You pour your heart into it, and at the time, it feels like you’re doing something great and you’re making a difference," she told the military news outlet. "And looking back on it now, I still feel that way, but it’s with a sadness."
Richard Mills, a retired Marine lieutenant general who commanded in the southern province of Helmand from 2009 to 2011, recalled efforts to build Kajaki Dam — and told Stars and Stripes the United States came close to "turning the tide" there.
"It’s sad to see that those pillars are being destroyed one at a time by the Taliban," Mills said. "To see it snatched away, of course it’s hard."
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