US Central Command Public Affairs
It has been almost a year since the Taliban once again took over Afghanistan and the US military withdrew from the country.
As the withdrawal unfolded, Marine Corps veteran Elliot Ackerman watched the chaos from afar. He was on a family holiday in Italy but couldn’t tear himself away from what happened.
Ackerman had deployed to Afghanistan several times. He felt tied to America’s Afghan allies, so when the United States announced it was leaving and those same Afghans were desperate to get out, he lay awake at night, glued to his phone.
“My whole network lit up and it quickly became a crowdsourced evacuation with each person playing their part,” Ackerman said Morning edition.
”Some people tried to raise money for charter flights, other people arranged the buses to transport evacuees from various pick-up points in Kabul to the airport.
Ackerman was key because he knew Marines who were inside the airport, manning those gates and deciding who could come in and who couldn’t. He writes about this experience in his new book, The Fifth Act: America’s End in Afghanistan.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Alyssa Schukar/Alyssa Schukar Photography LLC
On mobilizing to help Afghans evacuate
Everyone was very focused on the task, because the effort is naturally very high. You know, you have the photographs of the people trying to get out and their families. [because] These are not people any of us knew – the only family I got out that I had a direct personal connection to was my interpreter. He has since moved to the US but his family was still there and we were able to get his family out. But everyone else, these were strangers, and they were strangers to most of us. So in that moment you can’t really step away.
But there were definitely little interludes. And my wife, in the book, she almost comes out like a Greek cross conscience over the book and says, you know, “Why do you all have to do this? Why are the people who left the wars 10 years ago, now sucked to try to finish them?”
On how he views the US exit from Afghanistan
I think it was a breakdown of American morals that we made these promises and we fell short. It was a collapse of American competence. I mean, look, despite the heroic efforts of those who were at the airport – and our efforts were really heroic, so I don’t question their competence – but I do question the competence of the decision-making that put us in this position where our backs were against a wall with this August 31 withdrawal date that we couldn’t move.
It was a collapse of hierarchy because when the war ended in those days, I found myself on text message chains and phone calls with retired four-star generals and admirals, some of whom had commanded the entire war, because no one could get anyone out. because of the madness. And because the team that I worked with for a short period of time had some success, we found ourselves serving in this collapsed hierarchy, everyone working together. And it was surreal to me at times.
About how it is impossible to truly separate oneself from the experience of war
People have sometimes asked me, “Elliot, how do you think the war has changed you?” and I never knew how to answer that question. Because the war made me in so many ways. I don’t know how to untangle it from the knots that are me. But the friendships I have there, the memories I have from that time, of course, I think about, and that is the time when I grew up. I mean, I grew up there during the war.
I entered the service and started that training pipeline at 17. And as you can see in the book, those friendships are postponed because when Kabul fell, so many of the people I work with are people who have also changed. They have ended the wars themselves and we are all still friends.
Apu Gomes/AFP via Getty Images
What an appropriate memorial would look like for these particular US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq
I started thinking about it in regards to the recent passage of the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Location Act, which has passed through Congress to authorize a memorial for those wars. But the global war on terrorism isn’t over yet, so it’s actually interesting.
For the first time as a country, we will attempt to create a memorial for a war that we are technically still fighting. But it got me thinking, how would you make a memorial to an eternal war? And it got me thinking, well, what would be more appropriate maybe instead of raising all these memorials up, maybe we should dig down, like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
And I envisioned a war memorial that would almost look like the sloping granite rock, so that it tapers down like something out of Dante, and we’d get rid of all the memorials for each specific war, and we’d just have an American war memorial.
It would begin with the names, the first being Crispus Attucks, who was killed in the Boston Massacre. And we would just list them all chronologically and dig deeper and deeper and deeper. So we have more than a million war dead at this point in our country’s history. And every time we fund a new war, we just add to the names that go down and down into the ground. And then, in my imagination of this war memorial, when you got to the very last name, there would be a desk and a pen. And Congress would pass a law requiring the president—he or she—to come down to the war memorial before any troop deployment, and that pen would be the only pen that could be used to sign that troop deployment.
They had to walk past all the war dead before they had to do that. And then we’d have no more debates about war memorials – we’d just know what we did every time we fought a war, we’d just add the names.
This story was produced and edited for radio by Lisa Weiner and Reena Advani. It was adapted for the web by Reena Advani.
An ex-marine describes the exit from Afghanistan – and how we should mark it: NPR
Source link An ex-marine describes the exit from Afghanistan – and how we should mark it: NPR