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Article: Task & Purpose | Afghanistan left a ‘moral injury’ on American veterans. Here’s how they can start healing

Task & Purpose | Afghanistan left a ‘moral injury’ on American veterans. Here’s how they can start healing

I was fixated on the footage coming out of Kabul on August 15, 2021, when my phone rang. Jane Horton lost her husband, Chris, in Afghanistan in 2011. She’s one of the most resilient women I know, someone who turned her grief into an active campaign of support for Afghanistan veterans and our mission there. But she was sobbing as she watched what I was watching: “My husband, those that died, and all of you guys don’t deserve to be tied to this bullshit. You were there to serve your country and give your lives if asked. I feel like my heart has been ripped out all over again.”

When I turned down battalion command and retired from the Army in 2013, disgusted with the wrong-headed strategy in Afghanistan and the careerism of senior military leaders that allowed it, I thought I had put Afghanistan behind me. But suddenly it was all I could think about. 

We were cutting and running, leaving behind so many Afghans we had promised to stand beside. This betrayal was felt throughout the service community. More than three million Americans served in the Global War on Terror. They and their families shed blood, sweat, and tears. “What was it all for?” so many were wondering.

The motto of the Special Forces is De Oppresso Liber, which means “to free the oppressed.” But as Green Beret Master Sgt. Geoff Dardia told me, “Rather than liberate the oppressed, I feel like we oppressed the liberated.”

Nearly a year after the abandonment of Afghanistan, many veterans are still trying to honor America’s promise to the Afghan people, trying to help their partners survive the brutal Taliban takeover. They have depleted their checking accounts and cashed out their 401Ks. Ben Owen, a veteran helping Afghans find a safe passage with his non-profit Flanders Fields said to me, “Even my kids’ college funds have been wiped out trying to help with this mess.”

Read more from Scott Mann on Task & Purpose