Understanding Afghanistan: The mission and what went wrong

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ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — It’s impossible to pinpoint every wrong turn in the longest war in history that led to the fall of Afghanistan. However, at the center of the American mission was the hope of creating a sustainable and self-sufficient security force in Afghanistan. 

“For decades, we’ve been trying to change a country. We’ve been down this road before in other countries, and it usually doesn’t go very well,” Rick Matthews, counterterrorism consultant for the Matthews Group, said. “But don’t misconstrue. The military didn’t make the policy, the government did.”

For the past 20 years, U.S. forces have been on a mission to counter terrorism in Afghanistan and train a sustainable national security force in the country. 

Matthews said the issue in creating that force lies in the makeup of the Afghanistan people.

“If the group’s values and beliefs don’t align with what you want, it’s going to be extremely difficult to cause long-term behavioral change—which is what training is about,” Matthews said. 

NY Senator Rob Ortt is an Army combat veteran who deployed to Afghanistan and trained the National Police there. He said his unit would teach the police trainees light infantry tactics and go on foot patrols with them. 

He admitted it wasn’t easy training them and recalled the challenge of teaching them the simplest of structured tasks like taking attendance. He said the trainees were unable to do so because most of them couldn’t read. 

“Even back then, [20]07, [20]08, we knew that we could not be there forever, and the way to leave would be to train up the Afghan security forces so they can take over for us,” Ortt said. 

He said the mission made sense at the time; strong Afghan security would only benefit the United States. 

“Because they [Afghan security forces] wouldn’t provide sanctuary to al Queda, to terrorists. And maybe long term, we could have another ally,” Ortt said. “And I think it didn’t work, probably for a lot of reasons.”

Although necessary, he said the evacuation was a “colossal intelligence failure” and lacked honesty from the administration. 

“I almost think they believed what they wanted to believe,” Ortt said. “We wanted to believe that the Afghan Army was ready to defend the country. We wanted to believe that the internal security intelligence that we had trained were ready to stand up.”

Ortt said the missteps in this closing act of the Afghanistan War will have a lasting impact, and the images won’t soon be forgotten.

“I think if you would have talked to regular soldiers, who help trained those folks—not even inteligence experts—they would have told you there were real concerns,” Ortt said. 

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