The Tragedy of Afghanistan: The US Role as the Shining Light of Freedom and Liberty

In Retired Army Lt. Col. Anthony Hartsook’s Op-Ed The Tragedy of Afghanistan: The U.S. Role as the Shining Light of Freedom and Liberty, Anthony addresses the anger and frustration that Americans are feeling because of the death of thirteen of our brave Army Soldiers and Marines. With the fluid geo-political landscape, Anthony explains that it is not in our best interest to withdraw from world affairs.

Photo Credit: US Army/Reuters

As we reflect on the 20th Anniversary of both the horrific and heroic events that took place on 9/11, and the subsequent years, let us take stock of the world we are now living in.  2021 has been brutal for most Americans and especially for veterans as we watched the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan and the suicide bombings at the airport that killed 13 American military personnel, as they did their duty to protect and help others. Hundreds of Afghans also perished in that attack.  As people were recoiling in shock from those events, President Biden displayed abhorrent behavior and comments at Dover AFB towards our Gold Star families.

Americans are angry and frustrated.  The complete lack of leadership and planning from this administration is becoming apparent to most Americans.  This was not an intelligence failure.  It was and still is a leadership failure.  The shock of our young Soldiers and Marines senselessly dying, abandoning Americans behind enemy lines, and leaving the enemy with billions of dollars of American military equipment has deeply affected almost everyone.

After the attacks on 9/11 the United States military mission was to seek and destroy the Al Qaeda terrorist organization and capture or kill their leader Osama bin Laden. This morphed into the Global War on Terrorism.  Additional tasks included: Elections and Democracy, Infrastructure, and Security.  The Department of Defense was given numerous and varied missions by four different presidents and their staff.  This created changing and fluid conditions which made it difficult to define success.  The path forward now is complicated and fraught with pitfalls.  It is disgraceful that we have left personnel behind, and they must try to find a way out.  The Taliban have reinstituted Sharia Law and are carrying out executions.  We have most likely doomed a generation to brutality, and they will grow up with a resentment that will fuel future hatred and attacks against America.  Liberty and proper leadership demand a better response.

The US and our allies must now deal with the peril of a Taliban ruled nation-state.  After the defeat of the Soviet Union, the Taliban and their hardline radical interpretations of Islam rose to power and attracted terrorist groups like al Qaeda.  Taliban brutality and absolute tyranny were clearly explained by one of our interpreters during my deployment in Afghanistan.  He said that Americans just did not understand the horrors under the Taliban.  He told me about the Kabul arena that “ran red with blood” from the executions by the Taliban for infractions against their rules and orders.  Also, during my deployment, there was the bombing of a girl’s school.  The Taliban murdered girls just because they were going to school to gain an education.  The world has become less stable following our withdrawal.

The geopolitical map is shifting quickly.  We have rapidly changing events in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkey.  Russia and Ukraine are facing conflict as they build up troops along their border.  There are the ongoing naval conflicts with China over the South China Sea and Taiwan.  Iran is increasing its nuclear material to weapons grade.  There are the fluctuating political alliances in Europe and NATO.  What and where will the next crisis on the horizon take place?

America’s image has been severely damaged.  Our enemies are watching our actions.  This begs the question; Can the world depend on the United States?  If not America, then who will be the beacon of Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness?

Given the recent turmoil, it is understandable that people want to withdraw from global events and take care of business here at home.  However, that is not in our best interest.  We must stay strong and committed in world affairs or we will find things against us that we did not see coming and will harm us.  Do not let anger turn to hatred because that leads to destruction.  The Taliban and like-minded groups feed off hatred.  I have seen in firsthand.  We must rise above it and promote individual freedom.  We must help each other and be good neighbors.  There are huge cultural differences in the world.  Our job is not to change the world, but to be the shining light of freedom and liberty for others to emulate.  It is not easy, but we must persevere. We must stay engaged. We must succeed. We must never give up!

Anthony Hartsook

Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army (Retired)

Parker, Colorado



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