After enlisting in the U.S. military against his family’s wishes, Chicago native Tom Amenta said he found himself in “middle-of-nowhere,” Afghanistan, in 2002 as an Army Ranger in a remote area some 15 minutes from the border with Pakistan. He was fighting the initial battles of a war that few knew would stretch on for 20 years.
Now 40 and retired from the military, he felt anger foam inside as he watched the evening news on Thursday while on a work trip to Pennsylvania.
Headline after headline broadcast the latest gains by Taliban fighters, who have seized control of more than a dozen of the country’s provincial capitals as the Afghan government inches closer to collapse in the final days of the U.S. withdrawal. He was riveted in horror by news of fighters committing suspected war crimes against civilians or Afghan troops.
Friends who had been killed there came to mind, including NFL star Pat Tillman. Fond memories of former Afghan colleagues, such as interpreters, who remained in the country and whose fates he didn’t know, also resurfaced.
“It makes me angry, really angry,” Amenta said of the U.S. withdrawal, lamenting the billions upon billions of dollars spent on the war effort — not to mention the emotional, financial and human toll suffered by thousands of Americans who served or sent their loved ones to fight in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan “has never had a clean solution. But now that it’s gotten hard, we’re just going to bounce? It doesn’t make it right,” he said in a phone interview.
Amenta is one of many veterans voicing frustration over the Taliban’s faster-than-expected comeback, reflecting how deeply the conflict resonates around the world. About four dozen countries have sent troops in support of the United States, which, with 2,300 killed while serving, has spilled the most blood in the war, apart from Afghans themselves.
Amenta recounted memories of Jay A. Blessing of Tacoma, Wash., a goofy friend and fellow Army Ranger who used to put hot sauce on everything: “I mean, literally everything. He put hot sauce on ice cream.” Blessing was killed by an improvised bomb in Asadabad, Afghanistan, in 2003.
“I mean, why did my friend get blown up? For what?” said Amenta, who has recently spoken to nearly six dozen veterans from the post-9/11 wars to write a book that will be released next month.
In the United Kingdom, which lost at least 455 troops over the course of the war, Foreign Affairs Select Committee Chair Tom Tugendhat, who served in Afghanistan, tweeted: “If you think I’m taking the news from Afghanistan badly and personally, you’re right.”
Tugendhat said the withdrawal was “wasteful and unnecessary.” He added, “I’ve seen what it costs and what sacrifices are being thrown away.”
Tugendhat, in a BBC interview, said that withdrawing coalition support in the country has left its government exposed and weak. “We’ve pulled the rug from under them,” he said. “We’ve taken away their air support, we’ve taken away their logistics, and we’ve said, ‘Go on then, let’s see how you do.’ ”