How the Afghanistan conflict ended must not obscure the pride Americans should have for the men and women who fought there, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III told the Senate Armed Services Committee today.
"As a veteran of the war, I am personally reckoning with all of that," the secretary said during testimony about the war's last days and the evacuation of 124,000 people from Kabul. "But I hope … that we do not allow a debate about how this war ended to cloud our pride in the way that our people fought it."
More than 800,000 service members deployed to Afghanistan over the course of the 20 year war. "They prevented another 9/11, they showed extraordinary courage and compassion in the war’s last days, and they made lasting progress in Afghanistan that the Taliban will find difficult to reverse and that the international community should work hard to preserve," Austin said.
Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida used Afghanistan as a launching pad for its attacks on America on 9/11 that killed 3,000. American forces moved into the country in October 2001, drove the Taliban from power and denied al-Qaida sanctuary.
"Most importantly, 2,461 of us gave the ultimate sacrifice, while 20,698 of us were wounded in action, and countless others of us suffer invisible wounds of war," Milley said. "There's no doubt in my mind that our efforts prevented an attack on the homeland from Afghanistan, which was our core original mission, and everyone that served in that war should be proud. Your service mattered."
Austin told the senators that it is well and good that they discuss and debate the decisions and policies that led to the turning points in the war. "We can debate the decisions over 20 years that led us to this point," he said. "But one thing not open to debate is the courage and compassion of our service members, who — along with their families — served and sacrificed to ensure that our homeland would never again be attacked the way it was on September 11, 2001."