The top U.S. general on Wednesday said he shared the "pain and anger" and mixed emotions of many in the military after the United States completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan, which included an evacuation effort that cost the lives of 13 service members.
Nearly 2,500 Americans were killed in the United States' longest war, including 13 service members in a suicide bombing by Islamic State last week outside Kabul's airport. Many of them were just babies when the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks took place, triggering the conflict nearly 20 years ago.
The Taliban, who America toppled from power at the start of the war and fought for two decades, took control of the country last month after the U.S.-trained Afghan military crumbled.
"My pain and anger comes from the same as the grieving families, the same as those soldiers that were on the ground," said the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army General Mark Milley, speaking to reporters for the first time since the U.S. military completed its withdrawal on Monday.
Milley made his comments at a news conference that was somber rather than celebratory. In his opening remarks, Milley noted: "There are no words that I or the secretary (of defense) or the president or anyone else will ever do to bring the dead back."
In addition to the 13 service members killed on Thursday, more than a dozen were injured and medically evacuated from Kabul.
"This is tough stuff," Milley said. "War is hard. It's vicious. It's brutal. It's unforgiving."
Milley added that he was a professional soldier and he would "contain" his pain and anger.
Some active-duty troops and veterans have questioned what their tours of duty in Afghanistan were worth after the Taliban took over Afghanistan.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin stressed the importance of respecting all perspectives, as he honored the services of generations of veterans.
"I will always be proud of the part that we played in this war. But we shouldn't expect Afghan war veterans to agree any more than any other group of Americans," Austin told reporters at the same news conference.
"I've heard strong views from many sides in recent days, and that's vital. That's democracy. That's America."
In images that have been painful for service members, the Taliban have posed for photos in recent days at military bases built by the U.S.-led military coalition, which were handed over to Afghan forces which crumbled even before the American military could even finish its withdrawal.
Many troops and veterans are also bothered by the estimated thousands of at-risk Afghans who have been left behind, including some who worked as interpreters for the military.
Over the years, 800,000 Americans deployed to Afghanistan as the mission morphed from punishing the Taliban for sheltering al Qaeda into a vast, ambitious nation-building exercise.
As many as 20 percent of veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can include irritability or outbursts of anger, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
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