EVERY TIME we watch funerals and burials of our fallen soldiers, every time we see and hear the pain, the anguish, the indescribable sense of loss in the eyes and the tears and the trembling voice of their bereaved spouse, children, parents, friends and comrades, we cannot help but break down inside.
After all, these men and women have paid the ultimate sacrifice with their lives in the war zone just so we will be free, just so we will be safe, and just so we will continue to live.
Since the American Revolution, more than 2.85 million people in the U.S. military have been killed in wars and conflicts, and more than 7,000 of those have died in the War on Terror since 2001.
According to data from the Department of Defense as reported by Statista.com, a majority of those who have lost their lives have been in the following recent wars and operations:
- Operation Iraqi Freedom: 4,431 (2003-2010, primarily in Iraq)
- Operation Enduring Freedom: 2,352 (2001-2014, primarily in Afghanistan)
- Operation Inherent Resolve: 103 (2014-present, primarily in Iraq and Syria)
- Operation Freedom’s Sentinel: 96 (2014-present, Afghanistan only)
- Operation New Dawn: 74 (2010-2011, primarily in Iraq)
These are not just numbers and statistics. These are human beings who left behind widows and orphans and grieving family and friends.
Many of these men and women are our own kababayans who joined the military for the love of and gratitude to our adoptive country.
In addition to this, many also joined the military to have a job and career in this service, to help pay for college, to help support their families especially during the time of recession. Some serve to earn their pathway to citizenship by risking their lives in serving in the military.
Unfortunately, not all wars could justify the loss of lives. This is why there have been so many debates about going to war and why the Constitution mandates a rule of law to follow before we can send our men and women to harm’s way.
Sadly, not all people making decisions are guided by altruistic and conscientious motives. Some are motivated by special interests and ideology. Sometimes, people with these motives outnumber those who truly care. The game of politics.
That is why I feel so happy for many of our men and women in the military with the bold decision and announcement of President Joe Biden on Wednesday, April 14, that our troops in Afghanistan are coming home by September 11, “the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon that launched the war —is absolute, with no potential for extension based on worsening conditions on the ground,” CNN reported.
“I know there are many who will loudly insist that diplomacy cannot succeed without a robust U.S. military presence to stand as leverage,” Biden said during remarks announcing his decision on Wednesday, addressing directly the concerns of some within his own administration.
“We gave that argument a decade. It’s never proved effective, not when we had 98,000 troops in Afghanistan, and not when we were down to a few thousand. Our diplomacy does not hinge on having boots in harm’s way, U.S. boots on the ground. We have to change that thinking.”
“American troops shouldn’t be used as a bargaining chip between warring parties in other countries,” he went on. “That’s nothing more than a recipe for keeping American troops in Afghanistan indefinitely.”
A majority of Americans (59%) said the war in Afghanistan was not worth fighting, a 2019 Pew Research found. Veterans who served after the 9/11 attacks are more likely to feel strongly about ending our involvement in Afghanistan, a 2020 National Opinion Research Center revealed.
This controversial decision announced by Biden had been denounced by Republicans who are hawkish in our international relations with adversaries.
But the disagreement came not only from Republicans, but also from some of Biden’s military and national security advisers on the path forward in Afghanistan.
“The President welcomed the advice, welcomed at times disagreement, about what the appropriate path forward should be,” press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters.
“The president asked for a review. He asked for that review not to be sugarcoated. He wanted to hear different points of views. He welcomed debate. And ultimately he made the decision that because the terrorist threat has evolved.”
According to the reporting, Biden’s decision came after a months-long review that saw an unusually high rate of meetings among the administration’s national security and military officials. Officials said such discernment made it clear to the president that after two decades “throwing more time and money at Afghanistan’s problems wasn’t going to work.”
President Biden, therefore, ultimately determined there was nothing a sustained U.S. troop presence there could do to solve the country’s problems.
I SUPPORT the president’s decision. No lives should be lost for the wrong reasons.
I believe Biden feels very strongly about this also on a personal level because his late son U.S. Army Capt. Beau Biden, who served from 2002-2015, was deployed to Iraq just days after the older Biden became vice president-elect. Beau Biden died of brain cancer in 2015.
According to Military.com:
“Joe Biden, like many other families of service members diagnosed with illnesses from overseas deployments, suspects toxic exposure may have been behind his son Beau’s brain cancer.”
In a 2019 speech to the Service Employees International Union, Biden said “because of Beau’s exposure to burn pits, in my view, I can’t prove it yet, he came back with stage 4 glioblastoma. Eighteen months he lived, knowing he was going to die.”
For thousands of veterans who have also been struck by cancer after being exposed to the burn pits or other toxins while serving overseas, it’s Joe Biden’s personal loss that makes them hopeful they may finally get the help they need.”
This could have also factored in Biden’s decision.
Moreover, we have a new reality now in the United States given the prolonged war against COVID-19.
While we may continue to help the Afghan people’s humanitarian needs, we need to shift our focus to our clear and present enemy: the coronavirus pandemic. With our limited resources, it is time to channel our arsenal to helping save lives and rebuilding our country from the ongoing war against COVID-19.
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The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of the Asian Journal, its management, editorial board and staff.
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Gel Santos Relos has been in news, talk, public service and educational broadcasting since 1989 with ABS-CBN and is now serving the Filipino audience using different platforms, including digital broadcasting, and print, and is working on a new public service program for the community. You may contact her through email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send her a message via Facebook at Facebook.com/Gel.Santos.Relos.