Afghanistan: One Year Later, Zero Accountability
Monday, August 29th, 2022
August 26th marked the 1yr anniversary of the 13 service members were killed in a suicide vest bombing at Abbey Gate of HKIA in Kabul. The 20 year war began and ended with tragedy, and many mark the chaotic withdrawal as the lowest point in the Biden Administration.
The decision to withdraw from Afghanistan after 20 years began with President Obama in an agreement with former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai signed in 2010. However not much movement had been made until significant drawdowns occurred by President Trump. Trump also worked out timelines and small details with Military advisers. Had Trump won reelection, he would have overseen the evacuation but it was eventually fully executed by President Biden.
Leaving Afghanistan has been long supported by the majority of the public, and congress, across the political spectrum. The problem is that no one expected how ill-planned and abrupt the withdraw would be - eerily resembling our retreat from Vietnam years ago.
The evacuation from Afghanistan lasted from August 15th through August 30th, but is remembered for its two main highlights: videos of desperate Afghan people clinging to C-17 as they took off from the airport and the suicide bombing at Abbey Gate.
Despite Pentagon reports and preparation for mass casualty events at the airport, personnel on the ground struggled to close Abbey Gate. Abbey Gate had been the designated entry point for American citizens and certain allies to gather and join in the withdrawal.
Politico reported the following:
Commanders detailed a plan to close Abbey Gate by Thursday afternoon Kabul time. But the Americans decided to keep the gate open longer than they wanted in order to allow their British allies, who had accelerated their withdrawal timeline, to continue evacuating their personnel, based at the nearby Baron Hotel.
American troops were still processing entrants to the airport at Abbey Gate at roughly 6 p.m. in Kabul on Thursday when a suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest there, killing nearly 200 people, including 13 U.S. service members.
The attack, which was attributed to a branch of the terrorist group ISIS, killed:
Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover
Marine Corps Sgt. Johanny Rosario
Marine Corps Sgt. Nicole L. Gee
Marine Corps Cpl. Hunter Lopez
Marine Corps Cpl. Daegan W. Page
Marine Corps Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui
Navy Petty Officer Third Class Maxton W. Soviak
Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss
To this day there is no explanation as to why these 13 were where they were at the time of the bombing, and experts across all capacities consider their deaths completely preventable.
LT. COL. STUART SCHELLER SPEAKS OUT
Marine Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller famously took to social media to express his disdain for our botched evacuation amid the deaths of 13 service members - most of which who were Marines. His words resonated with many, and he soon became a political pariah for many who were critical of Biden's handling of the situation. His wearing of uniform and addressing the topic within his official military capacity - openly criticizing his chain of command - is a no no, but he knew what he was doing. It doesn't matter how right his words may have been or how justified his contempt was. Consequences came quick.
“The reason so many people are upset on social media right now is not because the Marine on the battlefield let someone down... People are upset because their senior leaders let them down, and none of them are raising their hands and accepting accountability or saying, ‘We messed this up.’”
- Lt. Col. Stuart Scheller during his 4min 45sec video posted to LinkedIn & Facebook.
There is no doubt it was a clear violation of the military’s Uniform Code of Military Conduct, and by December of 2021 he was a civilian.
However, this bleeds into a larger command climate issue within our military's ranks. Criticism of your boss shouldn't be something posted on social media for clout, but open door policies to hash out disagreement and disdain need be better followed. Far too many lower ranking service members are too fearful of ruining their careers to speak out or offer different ideas in problem solving situations.
Scheller read the room and decided to bet on the court of public opinion rather than his own chain of command. In the end, the public sided with him and anger with our top officials only grew when he was reprimanded.
Rank structure and decision making at the higher levels matters, but that doesn't mean we should abandon collaboration or punish those who see things differently. Scheller, for better or worse, made himself the face of questioning military authority. His sentiments may have been more welcome in a private setting, but his public questioning of leadership while wearing the uniform sealed his fate.
What is notable is that Lt. Col. Scheller gave a voice to the growing sentiment of many who felt a sense of loss and purposelessness. 20 years, thousands of fellow service members killed, for what? For the Taliban to retake the country as if we were never there? His insubordination couldn't go unpunished, but his willingness to speak out shows that there is a true lack of patience brewing with higher brass. Th 13 killed was clearly a breaking point for many, and it was enough for Scheller to willingly end his career.
Service members, active or not, are pissed and heartbroken. Heartbroken doesn't even begin to describe what many have felt. For the evacuation to be conducted in such an irresponsible manner is difficult to accept.
LASTING PAIN, UNADDRESSED
Anyone who knows someone who has served during our occupation of Afghanistan knows the scar this has left. Anger, distrust, and depleted morale. Afghanistan still begs the question of "why?" and salt is poured on the wounds when reports of further humanitarian crises emerge from the new Taliban controlled government.
The 13 service members and 200+ civilians who died at Abbey Gate stings. Our failure to heed warnings about ISIS-K in the region and our overall rushed approach to the evacuation cost lives, and the lingering pain from that fact exists more so each day responsibility isn't taken.
At a time when soldier suicide is through the roof, morale is low, recruiting and retention is abysmal - the idea that the war we've been in for the past two decades was worthless is a hard pill to swallow. Mental health is a stigma that needs to be broken within our forces, and its awareness is needed now more than ever.