Afghanistan War Generals are AWOL

By Jason Criss Howk

As we approach the dark anniversary of the abandonment of Afghans by the NATO coalition I am struck by the absence of most former leaders. I worked beside many of the generals that served in Afghanistan…your troopers have questions, and they need your help.

Hundreds of NATO Generals and Admirals (GOFOs) served in Afghanistan in what was likely the longest war in their country’s history. Yet, if you look at who is publicly working to help veterans cope with the fallout of this failure, it is not the GOFOs. At a moment when veterans need their leaders the most, there are simply few to be found.

It is good that some senior leaders are working quietly in non-profit organizations that are caring for veterans and their families. But generals and admirals are not just needed behind the scenes right now. They need to be out front, where their soldiers and marines can see them.

I am working in the public spaces to help the Afghans we betrayed, and the military community that is reeling from this betrayal. I am seeing veterans still working to evacuate their Afghan friends. I am watching military families use what little money they have to care for resettling Afghans. I am seeing the frustration, anger, confusion, and the disbelief in most Veterans as they try to come to terms with the political decision to abandon the war against terrorists in the hotbed of South Asian terror safehavens.

The failure to leave Afghanistan honorably is crushing the souls of veterans. Depression, PTS, physical health issues, and even suicide can all be attributed to the bad policy decisions of elected leaders in numerous NATO nations. Suicide is the gut punch to most veterans; we are all struggling as we watch former comrades make the worst choice—most of us are helpless to intervene.

These warriors, who literally grew up in Afghanistan, need leadership. Right now, more former Ambassadors to Afghanistan are publicly showing leadership than our generals. Good for State, bad for the military. Diplomats are not who our veterans are looking to for answers.

There are some exceptions of course. A few retired US Generals are speaking openly about the failed policy that got us here, and offering ideas for helping Afghans and helping the veterans that are struggling.

What veterans don’t need are the generals who didn’t even serve in Afghanistan, helping the politicians in DC to avoid coming to terms with this catastrophe.  

It is time for the generals who commanded divisions, corps, ISAF, RS, the ANDSF training commands, SOF commands, and other units to stand up for the veterans and Afghans and speak out. Give us words that show you understand the strain military families are under. Call on politicians to hold elected and appointed leaders accountable for this dishonorable exit. Call for the full evacuation of every Afghan SIV and at-risk person that so loyally stood beside us. Make yourself useful to veterans and Afghans.

This is no time to enjoy your retirement, make money hand over fist, write a book, work on your political ambitions, or pretend that you have no role in this war. DO NOT let the lower ranking members of the services do all the work to sort-out this debacle. I am tired of seeing so many young people struggle to take care of their families and try to resolve all the problems spilling over from this failed war effort.

Generals and Admirals around the globe (that includes Afghan military officers) that were part of the war need to be leaders. Live up to your oaths. Continue to counsel and advocate for what your people need. Let those younger veterans know that they are not alone in their anger, frustration, confusion, and desire to see us make up for our mistakes.

This is no time to be AWOL. Your soldiers, marines, seaman, and airmen have not given you permission to sit this one out. Get in the game or think about giving back the stars we helped you earn and we let you wear.

2 thoughts on “Afghanistan War Generals are AWOL

  1. You are spot on, Jason. I understand the inclination our senior leaders might feel to dissociate and avoid publicly (or even privately) acknowledging the measure of responsibility they personally bear for decisions made or actions taken during the course of the war. I never wore stars myself, but I advised many who did, and the tragic losses and misery on all sides of the conflict have left me grappling with my own sense of guilt and shame — feelings that make it hard to openly admit that I could have done better. I have to believe that at least some of the men and women I advised in Kabul, Washington, and Tampa during the final 15 years of the war — people who bore REAL responsibility — struggle in the same way, but as you noted, their nearly universal silence is killing those of us who served beneath them. People like to say there is a lot of blame to go around, and that’s definitely the case, but it’s no excuse to put our heads in the sand. It would be healing for us all if everyone, beginning with those at the top, could courageously admit that a portion of the blame is theirs, then work together to repair as best we can all that we’ve collectively broken.

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