US veterans protest Afghan war

As the US entered the tenth year of what is already its longest war, veterans and activists took to the streets to protest the redeployment of injured troops and the ongoing occupation of Afghanistan.

To date, 1,215 US soldiers, as well as an estimated 14,000 to 34,000 Afghan civilians, have died. On the anniversary of the war, veterans and Afghans in Washington asked whether all of the fighting has been worth it.

22-year-old Afghan veteran Brock McIntosh joined the Washington, DC march from Illinois.

I was one of the more optimistic soldiers, who I got on the ground in Afghanistan and I wanted to participate in this liberation of Afghans and defending the country from terrorists and all that nonsense,” said McIntosh. “The on the ground experience completely contradicted all of the preconceived notions that I had when I entered the country, and what tends to happen with a lot of soldiers is—not with all soldiers, but certainly with me is, you reach a point where it’s no longer about defense, or liberation or the constitution or anything about that, it’s about getting home alive to be able to marry your fiancé, or hold your baby that was born while you were away, or take your daughter fishing for the first time. Or to be in an environment where it’s not normal to become numb and indifferent to the sound mortars and rockets crashing around your tents.”

Veterans also shared stories of recovery and healing, from traumatic brain injuries sustained in combat as well as sexual abuse suffered at the hands of their fellow soldiers.

I’m a survivor of military sexual trauma, and having to do back-to-back deployments never really gave me a way to recover,” said Joyce Wagner, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq. “And I had another incident at the end of my deployment in which I was sexually assaulted, and I never really reported it because I didn’t think that anything would happen, based on my first incident.”

Activists called for an end to both wars and the occupation of Afghanistan, as well as support and understanding for their wounded comrades.

Watch the full interview with Jere Van Dyk

Jere Van Dyk, the author, “Captive: My Time as a Prisoner of the Taliban” said today is a significant day in his mind. He was previously captured by the Taliban and held in prison.

Van Dyk worked as a newspaper reporter in the 1980s and lived with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan during the Afghan war against the Soviet Union.

The Mujahideen were backed by the United States, and today the sons and grandsons of the Mujahideen are now fighting the Americans who once backed their fathers, he explained.

The Soviet Union was there for ten years. It had 115,000 soldiers on the ground. It lost 15,000 men before it retreated in 1989,”said Van Dyk. “We [US] have more soldiers and more marines, more troops on the ground than the Soviet Union. We went in with 70 perhaps special forces in October nine years ago. We thought we had routed the Taliban, on the left and the right we both pounded our chests and said how great we were, how much better we were than the Soviet Union.”

However, that is not the case, he later explained.

To me there is really no difference between what happened in the 1980s and in what is happening today. Afghanistan is further being destroyed,” he said.

Nine years ago Van Dyk was one of the few who opposed the US invasion of Afghanistan. He said, sadly, that he feels the war will continue.

Watch the full interview with Neal Shea

Neal Shea, a contributing writer to National Geographic Magazine has spent time in Afghanistan and said both the US troops and Afghan civilians are waiting and watching to see what the US government will decide to do next.

While I was there, they were really bringing out the message, Obama’s message, to the Afghan people. The American troops are literally walking it into the villages and letting them people know the US wasn’t going to be there too much longer and that it was time for the Afghans to step-up and start taking more responsibility for the war and their own security,” said Shea.

He explained that most of the people he encountered, between different infantry units, were on the same page in regards to the mission in Afghanistan. But, across the country there is a mixed signal between some groups.

Shea also pointed out that due to poor translation, the messages between Americans and Afghans can be quite confusing, and the message that Americans may soon be leaving left some in shock.

Some of them wanted the Americans to leave, but they really couldn’t believe that the Americans would actually follow through with that. So, there was a lot of disbelief and shock,” he said.

The proposed deadline for troop withdraws, set for July 2011, may actually be a day when the US begins pulling troops out, explained Shea. This could mean a few troops or units leaving the country merely to say the US has begun the process.

War veteran and member of the Rethink Afghanistan movement Justin Thompson says that the US-led war will have long-term affects on future generation of Afghans.

”The question asked is like ‘Why are we still there and what we are actually doing, what is the effect on the population?’” he said. “Yes, we talk about regional stability with Afghanistan and Pakistan as well, but we do not even talk about civilian impact, the impact on women. Do women have increase in women’s rights today?”

”What about the children? This is a future generation that is actually going to take over and rule the country once we leave. So the impact we are having on them, what they are seeing – the level of violence, their friends and family being killed – is really negative,” he insisted.

Watch the interview with Justin Thompson

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