Veterans Angry Over 'Wasted Years' in Afghanistan as Taliban Take Power

As the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan, thousands of people packed into Kabul's airport in desperate attempts to flee and the U.S military raced to evacuate diplomats and civilians.

Taliban insurgents tore through the country in just over a week and swept into the Afghan capital on Sunday, signaling an end to America's 20-year campaign to transform the nation ahead of the planned withdrawal of the last U.S. troops at the end of August.

For some U.S. veterans who served in the war, the fall of Afghanistan has stirred feelings of disappointment and anger at seeing their efforts erased so swiftly. Veterans also spoke of their fears for the Afghans who worked with the U.S. and whose lives are now at risk but expressed relief that American soldiers will no longer sacrifice their lives in vain.

Laura Jedeed, who was deployed to Afghanistan twice, described the two decades the U.S. spent in the county as "20 wasted years."

She told Newsweek that she and her fellow veterans are feeling a mixture of emotions.

"It's complicated. Some of my friends aren't sure what they feel right now. Some of them feel angry and betrayed. Some of them feel grief for the people we were supposed to be helping," the 34-year-old said. "I think all of us are sad. There's something so tragic about the waste of all this."

She added: "I don't think anyone's feeling anything simple right now. Some of us expected it to end this way, but none of us wanted it to."

Jedeed reflected on her time in Afghanistan, where she was an Arabic linguist and signals intelligence collector, in a viral Twitter thread that she later collated into a Medium post with the title: "Afghanistan meant nothing."

"I know how bad the Taliban is. I know what they do to women and little boys. I know what they're going to do to the interpreters and the people who cooperated with us, it's awful, it's bad, but we are leaving, and all I feel is grim relief," Jedeed wrote.

US soldiers rest
US soldiers rest as Afghan people (not pictured) wait to leave the Kabul airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan's 20-year war. Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images

Jedeed explained that the U.S. had an idea of what Afghanistan "should look like as a nation state that didn't take into account what Afghanistan is and what Afghans want. "We didn't even bother learning the intricacies of tribal structures in the East, which as far as I can tell is vital to understanding the region at all," she said.

David Weissman, an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, said he is glad the U.S. is withdrawing its troops, but also expressed concern for the people left behind.

"I hope the United States has a plan for them but I feel it's time for our troops to come home," he told Newsweek.

On Twitter, he wrote: "My take on Afghanistan has nothing to do with the Dem Party. I'm concerned about the people that are left behind, but I'm sick and tired of American soldiers getting killed, families torn apart by PTSD, veteran suicides, all for a country not wanting to defend itself. Enough."

My take on Afghanistan has nothing to do with the Dem Party. I’m concerned about the people that are left behind, but I’m sick and tired of American soldiers getting killed, families torn apart by PTSD, veteran suicides, all for a country not wanting to defend itself. Enough.

— David Weissman (@davidmweissman) August 16, 2021

Florida Rep. Brian Mast, who lost both legs while working as a bomb disposal expert in Afghanistan, said the U.S. was failing to bring Afghans who worked with them as interpreters and in other jobs to safety.

Mast described the chaos unfolding as Afghans frantically attempt to flee the county as "truly the worst-case scenario."

In a statement, the Republican congressman rebuked the Biden administration for being "so unprepared that all those who worked with us are going to be executed."

The first step for Afghan allies to get a visa is a signed letter from a commander proving that they served with us. But that is also the proof the Taliban will use to behead them.

You can believe anyone with that type of letter is burning it as we speak.https://t.co/9Wk0FTdJat

— Rep. Brian Mast (@RepBrianMast) August 15, 2021

Those Afghans have "been forced to burn the first thing they need to get a Special Immigrant Visa—proof that they worked with us—because that's also the proof the Taliban will use to behead them. And they can't just show up at the airport because the Taliban will be waiting there for them," Mast said.

"If they let me, I would go back tomorrow to help in any way possible" he added.

My heart has broken. Like most vets, I left part of me in AFG. Later we’ll debate the failures of last 20 yrs, but today our mission is clear: hold the airport as long as possible and get ALL U.S. citizens and as many Afghan partners out as we can. We will debate the rest later

— Rep. Jason Crow (@RepJasonCrow) August 15, 2021

Colorado Rep. Jason Crow, a former Army Ranger who served in both Afghanistan and Iraq, tweeted: "My heart has broken. Like most vets, I left part of me in AFG. Later we'll debate the failures of last 20 yrs, but today our mission is clear: hold the airport as long as possible and get ALL U.S. citizens and as many Afghan partners out as we can. We will debate the rest later."

"If you served in #Afghanistan, you're probably having a sh**ty day. I certainly am," tweeted Jason Kander, who served as an intelligence officer in Afghanistan and was Missouri's Secretary of State between 2013 and 2017.

"About all I can control is checking in on my buddies. So that's what I'm doing. Don't isolate. Check on your buddies."

Later on Sunday, he responded to a tweet asking why he was bothered by the prospect of no more American casualties, writing: "It's because the prospect of my Afghan friends being killed by the Taliban - if in fact they weren't killed years ago - is very high. I fear for them and their families."

Kander added: "I support ending our mission. I've supported it for years. It doesn't make today any less sh**ty."

I know how bad the Taliban is. I know what they do to women and little boys. I know what they're going to do to the interpreters and the people who cooperated with us, it's awful, it's bad, but we are leaving, and all I feel is grim relief

— Laura Jedeed (@LauraJedeed) August 14, 2021

No more blown up soldiers. No more Bollywood videos on phones whose owners are getting shipped god knows where. No more hypocrisy

No more pretending it meant anything. It didn't

It didn't mean a fucking thing

— Laura Jedeed (@LauraJedeed) August 14, 2021

For Jedeed, the Taliban retaking Afghanistan at least means "no more blown up soldiers."

But it also means "no more pretending it meant anything," she added. "It didn't. It didn't mean a goddamn thing."

Afghan passengers sit in Kabul Airport
Afghan passengers sit as they wait to leave the Kabul airport in Kabul on August 16, 2021, after a stunningly swift end to Afghanistan's 20-year war, as thousands of people mobbed the city's airport trying to flee the group's feared hardline brand of Islamist rule. Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images