The last U.S. soldier to leave Afghanistan boarded a plane on Aug. 30, 2021. In the nearly two decades of war that preceded, more than 775,000 U.S. service members deployed to the country at least once. Over the course of the 20-year conflict, much about the war changed, from its primary mission to the support it enjoyed among the American public to the force deployment that sustained it. Notably, many veterans' attitudes toward the conflict in which they served have shifted as well.
To understand America's longest war through the eyes of those who fought it, POLITICO convened five veterans from different military services who deployed to Afghanistan at various points between 2001 and 2020. We discussed their early feelings about the war, the inflection points at which their thinking started to change and their reactions to the events of recent weeks and months. Most of the panelists described initial feelings of optimism that gave way to a sense that the U.S. mission was unrealistic. They spoke candidly about the fundamental flaws in the U.S. project, noting the lack of incentives for ordinary Afghans to support American objectives and expressing regret that the United States failed to see the country and the mission more clearly.
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