Updated August 17, 2021 - 9:52 am
As Taliban fighters swept through the Afghan capital over the weekend, the takeover shocked the nation.
But Nevada Army Guard Staff Sgt. Richard Rohweder, who served in Afghanistan in 2012, was not surprised.
“Anytime we pull out of anywhere, it’s mass chaos,” he said. “Saigon was mass chaos. We pulled out of Germany in World War I, and Hitler came to power.”
Rohweder said he sees the events that unfolded in Afghanistan as history repeating itself, and an example of America underestimating a savvy enemy.
In a matter of days, the Taliban have pushed through cities. When they ascended into Kabul, President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. Thousands desperately tried to leave.
The turmoil came less than a month before the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, which sparked the invasion of Afghanistan.
Since 2003, more than 1,250 Nevada Army Guard soldiers have served in Afghanistan on 19 deployments, according to internal statistics. More than 700 Nevada Air Guardsmen also were deployed.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 John Flynn and Sgt. Patrick Steward died in Afghanistan when the Taliban shot down their CH-47 Chinook helicopter “Mustang 22” in 2005.
The recent events have left Americans questioning the hastiness of President Joe Biden’s decision to pull out and the billions invested since the war on terror began in 2001.
Rohweder said his heart goes out to the Afghan people. He said the U.S. armed forces made a commitment to stay until the job was done.
“Yes, we could stick around,” he said. “Doesn’t mean we need to be in the same function that we were in 20 years ago.”
He pointed to other nations that the U.S. still occupies: South Korea, Kuwait, Germany and Japan.
Though the Afghan Army was trained by and worked side by side with Americans, it surrendered swiftly. But the training was there, Nevada Army Guard 1st Sgt. Larry Harlan said.
It’s hard for Rohweder and Harlan to guess what happened without being on the ground. Maybe the Afghan soldiers were tired, threatened, or had family in the Taliban. Maybe the U.S. could have staggered its withdrawal of troops, Harlan suggested.
Harlan’s military career was shaped by the war on terror.
He recalled the smell of pollution in the air, as Afghans burned tires and trash to stay warm. The mushroom clouds of cars being blown up. The helicopter that crashed on his base.
“They say each time you go you kind of leave a little of yourself there,” he said.
He urged the Afghan people to stand up for themselves and take charge of the situation. He said he hopes America can focus more inward and work to rebuild our fractured country.
“It’s a lot of mixed emotions,” Harlan said. “A lot of people are saying our service was for nothing, and we lost members over there.”
He pointed out the positives of America’s presence in the country: Girls were able to attend school, and women didn’t need a male guardian to leave the house.
They were afforded more rights than they had under the Taliban.
“We also gave the people a better life for the 20 years we were there,” he said. “I just wish it could have been handled differently, so it’s not going to go back to where it was before we got there.”