Afghanistan vet reflects on U.S. withdrawal

Erik Edstrom during his 2008 deployment in Kandahar.

Erik Edstrom

Erik Edstrom during his 2008 deployment in Kandahar.

While Americans across the country recently commemorated the twentieth anniversary of the attacks of 9/11, many are dissatisfied with the U.S. government’s recent actions to withdraw its military from Afghanistan, which put an end to the 20-year war in the region.

The White House reported that the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers and military personnel officially ended on August 30, after more than a year and a half of evacuations. This ended the 20-year war that was waged against the Taliban, the Islamic fundamentalist group believed to have been protecting Osama bin Laden and other prominent leaders of the terrorist group al-Qaeda, who were responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

The war in Afghanistan began in 2001 when the U.S. military, under command of President George W. Bush, invaded and occupied the country for 20 years, as a retaliation for the 9/11 attacks. These attacks occurred after al-Qaeda released a statement declaring the U.S. to be, “an enemy of the Islamic World,” to which they needed to “commit jihad against”.

Osama bin Laden deployed several jihadists on a suicide mission to hijack four commercial airliners, two of which crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York, while another was crashed into the Pentagon Building in Washington. The last one was retaken by the crew and passengers who caused it to crash in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

These attacks left a major impact on American society, as over 3,000 people were killed in these attacks. This made it the deadliest attack on U.S. soil in history, and the largest attack on U.S. soil by foreign militants since World War II. 

The vast majority of politicians in the Senate and House of Representatives voted in favor of the invasion, and the majority of major media outlets in the country were supporting the Bush administration’s decision to go to war and combat terrorism.

However, 20 years later, the attitude towards the war has changed significantly amongst the American public, as many politicians and media figures criticized the Bush administration’s decision to invade Afghanistan.

The war had not only ended up lasting many more years than predicted, but also killed over 70,000 American soldiers and allies, as well as 40,000 Afghan civilians. Additionally, Afghanistan was not the country Osama bin Laden had sought refuge in, as he was discovered hiding in Pakistan by U.S. navy seals in 2011, who assassinated him per order of President Barack Obama.

One such critic of the war Erik Edstrom, a retired U.S. Army infantry captain, Boston resident and the author of UN-American: A Soldier’s Reckoning With America’s Longest War; a critically acclaimed book about the war’s failure and detrimental effect on America’s societal militarism.

Edstrom, who watched the 9/11 attacks from his high school class, was motivated to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he joined the army. He later served as a presidential escort platoon leader in Kandahar, Afghanistan under the leadership of Obama, where he was inspired to write his critically acclaimed book about the war.

Edstrom describes how his experiences in Afghanistan changed his view of the war. 

“Within the first week of my deployment, I had one of my trucks blown up injuring four of my soldiers,” Edstrom said. “Within the first month, 25% of my platoon had become combat casualties.”

“It was a recursive loop where the U.S. would try to maintain control over the road and the nearby villages, which the Taliban would later just blow up with improvised explosives,” Edstrom continued. 

“The locals we engaged with often didn’t want us there or if they did, they just wanted us for American money” Edstrom explained. “There was little support for the U.S. from the locals because they suspected that wherever the U.S. would go, the Taliban would follow. 

“There was absolutely zero positive impact coming from that experience,” he said.

When asked what was most important to him while he was stationed in Kandahar, Edstrom said “I’ve built really good relationships with my Afghan interpreters, and that’s who I’ve currently been fighting for to get them to the U.S. or at least out of Afghanistan.”

Edstrom explained that he has been actively contacting politicians asking for their support for his cause. “I’ve been lobbying my congressmen since 2017, requesting that they issue more visas to our Afghan allies, so that they don’t get murdered in their own country for supporting U.S. interests in our occupation of their home country,” Edstrom said.

“We have a moral obligation not to abandon our allies, and to help people who risked their lives to serve our interests,” he said. “One of the biggest problems with the U.S. government’s evacuation is that it took too long to get people out.”

Edstrom believes that the U.S. government’s biggest lack of vision was “sending soldiers to Afghanistan in the first place, as they could’ve located who was responsible for 9/11 and captured them and put them on trial, without causing a 20-year war and occupation,” he said.

“The biggest misunderstanding Americans have about the war is that there is some kind of benefit to Americans at home. Americans are not any safer as a result of the war and the risk of dying by terrorism is still incredibly low,” Edstrom said. “We have overlooked larger problems that are more relevant at home, such as tackling pandemics, climate change, and helping the homeland population and veterans.”