In observance of Veterans Day, the Rotary Club of Delaware invited retired U.S. Army National Guard Col. Paul Craft to speak at its regular meeting Monday, where he reflected on the country’s involvement in Afghanistan.
Craft told the club he spent about nine months in Afghanistan between 2003-2004 while he was in the National Guard. He discussed the country’s history, detailing the numerous nations and empires, including Alexander the Great, the Soviet Union and the United States.
“It’s the crossroads for several civilizations,” Craft said. “They call it ‘the Graveyard of Empires’ because it doesn’t end well for anyone who finds themselves engaged in that area.”
Craft said while he was in Afghanistan he worked alongside battalions from other NATO countries to do construction throughout the county and set up electrical production. Craft said he also cleared landmines during his time in the country.
“You haven’t experienced stress until someone tells you, ‘Here’s a square meter of soil, there may or may not be something in it that will kill you, please clear it out,’” Craft said.
He added half of the country’s population is 16 years old or younger.
“The majority of people who life in Afghanistan, including the majority of young ladies in that country, have never known life under the Taliban,” Craft said. “They’ve never known life where they couldn’t go to school, and they’re living that now.”
Craft also discussed the recent withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region and criticized both President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden for a timed withdrawal instead of waiting until several conditions were met to leave the county.
“What we were basically doing is saying, ‘We’re leaving at a certain time, not under certain conditions,’” Craft said. “Conditions that would guarantee the safety and freedom of Afghan men and women, especially women. … We just cut and run.”
Craft explained that one reason the county fell to the Taliban again so quickly is because the Afghan troops were trained to fight like U.S. troops; by holding their ground and waiting for air support to break the enemy, but he said that when the withdrawal happened, all of the support for ground troops left the county as well.
He reflected on “what went wrong” with Afghanistan, stating one of the factors is that Americans lost the drive to continue in Afghanistan.
“The U.S. seems to have lost the will for long-term commitments,” Craft said. “When we took over Germany, we stayed in Germany, and we still have troops in Germany to this day. We stayed there for long enough that you had two or three generations of Germans who got used to the idea that ‘this is how we do government.’”
Craft cited the U.S.’s involvement in Japan after World War II and Korea after the Korean War as examples of “nation building (taking) decades, not years.”
“If we’re going to get involved in countries like that, we need to get used to the idea that it could take decades,” he said.
Craft said the withdrawal was an “emotional time for a lot of Americans, especially veterans.”
“There’s still raw nerves and emotions around it,” Craft said. “Frustration, anger and sadness.”
The Rotary Club presented Craft with a certificate and The Paul Harris Fellow recognition.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.