Opinion | The Kabul bombing shows America needs to do better

The tragedy of the bombing in Kabul shows America could have been better in its approach to Afghanistan.


Dylan Hood, contributed.

Dylan Hood, Opinions Columnist

It was 4:30 a.m., and I was one of 50 soldiers in the bunker. I was sleeping peacefully in my metal shipping container when suddenly, incoming missile sirens went off. It was reminiscent of an incoming nuclear attack as people scrambled through the pavement to seek shelter. Young soldiers all around me were staring up at the red and orange sky, trying to see if they could spot the rocket that could make our stay in the country very short.

As I sprinted around the 20 by 20 feet bunker made of concrete and rebar, desperately trying to gain accountability for my soldiers, upper levels of command called every connection they had made on base to try and find the source of the alarm.

We sat in suspense because the two possible outcomes were either death or the ability to go back to sleep for two more hours. Hours after the detection of the missile launch, we learned that the alarms were due to Iran launching an underground ballistic missile at a mock aircraft carrier in the Strait of Hormuz.

At the time, I was serving as a team leader in my company for our 2020 to 2021 deployment in Qatar for the Iowa National Guard. While this was my first time in a leadership role, it was not my first deployment, as I was deployed during 2015-2016 with the Virginia National Guard. My experience when I was first forward-deployed, while vastly different due to COVID-19, prepared me for the rigors of leadership in a stressful and unknown environment.

So when I heard about the recent Kabul bombing — where at least 13 U.S. service members and at least 170 Afghan civilians were killed — I was livid. Everyone in the military understands that there is an implied risk when they join. However, the sting of combat casualties is vastly worse; it seems that the deaths of service members are unnecessary.

To be fair, the war in Afghanistan is one that has been in contention and unwinnable for centuries. Any logically thinking service member knows that this is a modern-day Vietnam, and we cannot win this war.

As a member of the University of Iowa veteran student body, this withdrawal from the country not only hurts from a military standpoint, but also from a point of compassion for the loss of life that didn’t need to happen. We as Iowa students embody the ideals of compassion, humility, responsibility, and humanitarianism. Watching these acts unfold stings as this execution of this plan goes against every one of those values.

After being indoctrinated into the military, we are always taught to have a PACE plan, which stands for Primary, Alternate, Contingency and Emergency. This plan can be applied to plans, communications, etc. The rapid deterioration of the state of Afghanistan makes it clear that only one plan was developed. With a hardline approach that we have adopted to this issue, it’s not surprising that this happened.

The rapid evacuation of diplomats, refugees, service members, and American citizens centralized out of the Kabul airport, created a hotbed for this kind of terrorist activity. In addition to our severely depleted numbers of troops in the country, the Taliban having control of the entire country and set up to conduct their own offensive operations leaves very little ability to safely and effectively conduct an effective evacuation.

As we see the massive loss of life in one of the deadliest days in the war’s history, we need to stop and reflect on what our legacy has been over the past 20 years. Did we make a difference in Afghanistan? What did all the money spent and lives lost mean in the grand scheme of things? As I look back at my two tours overseas, it’s hard for me to see purpose in my two years abroad.

To be clear, I was not in Afghanistan or Iraq, so I can only speak for what I have done and not what the brave men and women who fought in combat there have done. My deployment history includes two tours of 10 months each to Qatar – more or less one of the safest deployments one could have.

However, I still supported Operation Enduring Freedom, which is the military operation that encompassed the war in Afghanistan. My deployments include guarding a base through entry control points and maintaining overall base security. On any given day, we were outside for 8 hours at a time in 110-degree heat scanning ID cards, searching vehicles for improvised explosive devices and weapons, and validating overall base access. Additional duties included running guard towers and roving patrols around the exterior of the base.

I spent hours upon hours sweating in the sun, thousands of miles away from my family and loved ones, for what now seems like no reason. As I watch how the entire conflict is wrapping up, I almost feel numb. I set myself back years in my education for what seems to be an arbitrary reason.

I lost friends from basic training who lost their lives in combat zones fighting an enemy that we could never truly beat. Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Airmen all return home from deployments with unimaginable amounts of PTSD from their operations. For what reason?

We all knew that the war in Afghanistan had to end at some point. We had a feeling that once we left the country, the Taliban would come back in and take control of the country due to the continued presence of the group. The best we could do was help build infrastructure, use our money, force, and influence before we left. I do believe that we did our best. We as service members gave everything we could to shape a prosperous future for Afghanistan.

Whether we like it or not, the war is very close to being over. It’s impossible to say whether we left the country a better place than where we found it. Though the Taliban says that it will attempt to be a legitimate government recognized on the world stage, it’s very difficult to take them at their word while women and children are beaten and killed, ripped away from schools and employment, and an oppressive legal system is in place.

Those who were found to be working with or allowing haven for the U.S. Troops are facing reprisals across the country in the form of public executions and beatings.

At this point, the situation in Afghanistan is very difficult to rectify from a militaristic perspective. The way we are leaving, from abandoning equipment and bases behind to moving our evacuation center, has strengthened the Taliban’s growing influence over the country. It appears that an invasion akin to October 2001 would be necessary to take back what the Taliban controls.

The deaths of the U.S. Marines and others were an illumination of the limitations civilian oversight places on military operations. Top military advisors need to have the autonomy to plan and execute the evacuation. They have the experience, know the theatre better than anyone, and have the expertise to safely and effectively complete the mission. We need to do better for those Marines and for everyone who lost their lives in Afghanistan as a result of this war.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.