By William Tucker
Nine years ago today I was still active duty military preparing to go to work like the thousands of other soldiers on the post at the time. I arrived for the duty day about the same time the first tower was struck. Fifteen minutes later the largest military installation east of the Mississippi was locked down and I would not set foot back in my home for over 72 hours. This was due to the pragmatic security response of the military as well as the uncertainty of more attacks. For the military members the first several days did not pass quietly. My squad and I had engaged in roving patrols due to the increase in security posture which eventually gave way to preparing a Military Police unit to go to Washington D.C. to augment security. Near the end of the week I was asked by my company commander to identify some of my soldiers for an impending deployment to Uzbekistan. On Tuesday al-Qaeda had cast their die; on Thursday the US was preparing to respond in kind.
Strange though it may seem to the outside observer this string of events did not seem out of the ordinary to me. After all we were soldiers and this is what soldiers train for. The Army unfortunately does not train parents to drop their children off at school with armed soldiers guarding the grounds and the entryways. The hell that people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania were going through was being telegraphed worldwide via news cameras, but hell for the military was just beginning. Every American suffered that day far beyond the 3000 person death toll the attacks took. It is this emotional toll that binds us as a nation together and at times tears us apart. Nine years after the attacks and soldiers are still in Afghanistan fighting an ill-defined mission with an undefined goal. It could be argued, as many have, that it is this emotional memory that is keeping the US in Afghanistan, but the situation is more complex than that.
Emotion does play a part in the national character and can influence policy decisions, but more often than not the pragmatic course does win out. But this puts the Afghan commitment into a bit of a quandary. The US wants a stable central government in Kabul that will prevent the Afghan nation from reemerging as a terrorist haven, but the US also needs to address other global commitments. During the US led War on Terror regional powers such as China and Russia have had great leeway in their global ambitions while the American military was engaged in the Middle East. These ambitions have negatively impacted US allies and interests worldwide. Ultimately the US needs to have the bandwidth to respond to these challenges and the Afghan war is hampering these needs. In time the US will have to recast its die and decide what the most pressing strategic need is. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have resulted in a battle hardened military capable of a high operational tempo – a military other regional powers will soon have to deal with. Despite what some administration officials have stated, the July 2011 withdrawal date may indeed represent the end of the US commitment. By any measure we can expect the US worldwide commitment to look different by the tenth anniversary.