Ex-Marine details getting out of Afghanistan — and how we should celebrate it: NPR

Ex-Marine details getting out of Afghanistan — and how we should celebrate it: NPR

This distribution photo shows a Marine handing out water to evacuees during an evacuation Aug. 22 at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan.

US Central Command Public Affairs


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US Central Command Public Affairs


This distribution photo shows a Marine handing out water to evacuees during an evacuation Aug. 22 at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan.

US Central Command Public Affairs

It has been almost a year since the Taliban retook Afghanistan and the US military was withdrawn from the country.

As the evacuation process continued, Marine Corps veteran Elliot Ackerman watched the chaos from afar. He was on a family vacation in Italy, but he couldn’t tear himself away from what was happening.

Ackerman has been deployed to Afghanistan many times. He felt connected to America’s Afghan allies, so when the U.S. announced it was leaving and those Afghans were desperate to get out, he stayed awake at night, glued to his phone.

“My whole network was lighting up and it quickly became a mass evacuation with everyone playing their part,” Ackerman said. Morning release.

“Some were trying to raise money for charter flights, while others were organizing buses to transport evacuees from various reception points in Kabul to the airport.”

Ackerman was key because he knew the Marines at the airport, manned those gates, and decided who got in and who couldn’t. He writes about this experience in his new book: Act Five: The End of America in Afghanistan.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Elliot Ackerman, 41, was deployed to Afghanistan from 2008 to 2011 as a Marine and trained Afghan commandos.

Alyssa Schukar/Alyssa Schukar Photography LLC


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Alyssa Schukar/Alyssa Schukar Photography LLC


Elliot Ackerman, 41, was deployed to Afghanistan from 2008 to 2011 as a Marine and trained Afghan commandos.

Alyssa Schukar/Alyssa Schukar Photography LLC

Highlights of the interview

Mobilizing to help evacuate Afghans

Everyone is very focused on the task at hand because the stakes are so high. You know, there are photos of people trying to get out and their families. [because] these are not strangers to any of us – the only family I had direct personal contact with was my translator. He has since moved to the US but his family was still there and we were able to get his family out. But everyone, these were strangers and strangers to most of us. So at that point, you can’t really walk away.

But of course there were little interludes. And my wife, in the book, she comes out almost like the Greek chorus of the book and says, “You know, ‘Why do you all have to do this?’ People who left wars 10 years ago are now asking why. are you trying to finish them off?”

A U.S. Marine holds a baby over a barbed wire fence during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Aug. 19, 2021, in this image provided to AFP by human rights activist Omar Haydari on Aug. 20, 2021.

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Omar Heydari/AFP


A U.S. Marine holds a baby over a barbed wire fence during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul on Aug. 19, 2021, in this image provided to AFP by human rights activist Omar Haydari on Aug. 20, 2021.

Omar Heydari/AFP

How does he view America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan?

I think it was a collapse of American morals that we made those promises and we failed to deliver. It was the collapse of American authority. I mean, listen, despite the heroic efforts of those at the airport – and our efforts were truly heroic, so I don’t question their competence – but I do question the competence of the decision-making that got us to this point. With the August 31 withdrawal date, our backs were against the wall and we couldn’t move.

It was a breakdown of hierarchy, as I found in message chains and telephone conversations with retired four-star generals and admirals, some of whom had commanded the entire war, as the war wound down in those days, because nobody could get anybody out. because of madness. For a brief window, the team I was working with had some success, so we found ourselves working together in this collapsed hierarchy. And it was surreal for me at times.

About how it is impossible to separate yourself from the experience of war

People sometimes ask me, “Elliot, how do you think the war changed you?” and I never knew how to answer that question. Because the war made me in many ways. I don’t know how to untangle him from the knots that are me. But the friendships there, the memories from that time, of course, I think about and the time I grew up. I mean, I grew up there in the war.

I entered the service and began that line of training at the age of 17. And as you see in the book, these friendships were foreshadowed because when Kabul fell, a lot of the people I worked with were people who had transitioned. They ended the wars themselves and we are all still friends.

A group of military families and veterans watch President Joe Biden’s speech announcing the withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan on August 31, 2021 in Long Beach, California.

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A group of military families and veterans watch President Joe Biden’s speech announcing the withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan on August 31, 2021 in Long Beach, California.

Apu Gomes/AFP via Getty Images

About what a fitting memorial to America’s particular wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would look like

I started thinking about this recently, the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Placement Act, which authorized Congress to put up a memorial to these wars. But the global war on terrorism is not over yet, so it’s actually interesting.

For the first time as a country, we will try to commemorate a war we are still technically fighting. But it got me thinking, how do you memorialize an eternal war? And it got me thinking that maybe instead of building all these monuments up, maybe we should dig down like the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

And I envisioned a war memorial, almost like a sloping granite rock, that tapers down like something out of Dante, and we’d get rid of all the memories of each particular war and just have one American War Memorial.

Ackerman’s book, Act Five: The End of America in Afghanistan.

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Penguin Random House

It would begin with names, the first being Crispus Attucks, who was killed in the Boston Massacre. And we will list them chronologically ourselves deeper, deeper and deeper. So, at this point in our country’s history, there are over a million war victims. And every time we fund a new war, we just keep adding names that come and go. And then, in my imagination, this war memorial, when you get to your last name, would be a desk and a pen. And Congress will legislate that before any troops are deployed, the president—he—must go down to the war memorial, and that pen will be the only pen that can be used to sign off on those troop deployments.

Before they can do that, they’ll have to go past all the war dead. And then there would be no more discussion about war memories – we knew what we were doing every time we went to war, we would just add the names.

This story was produced and edited for radio by Lisa Weiner and Reena Advani. It was adapted for the web by Reena Advani.

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