August 30th, 2023
The attacks carried out by Al-Qaeda on September 11, 2001 were meant to instill fear. Instead, the United States courageously responded through launching Operation Enduring Freedom. For nearly two decades, U.S. Servicemembers and their families sacrificed greatly to carry out this mission. As we commemorate the second anniversary of the catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan, we must honor our Servicemembers who fought to protect our national security and defend freedom around the world.
Two years ago Joe Biden rejected the recommendations of senior U.S. military leaders and ordered an unconditional withdrawal. This decision halted 20 years of tactical and operational success and resulted in the tragic deaths of 13 U.S. Servicemembers. To ensure policymakers are never again able to make such a consequential decision so haphazardly, we must bring to the forefront the sacrifices our Servicemembers and their families endured throughout the 20 years of U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.
As the Representative for Fort Drum and the 10th Mountain Division, it is my responsibility to honor the tremendous impact of the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan. During a recent House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, I was given the opportunity to highlight one of the last missions the 10th Mountain Division executed in Afghanistan. Following the Biden Administration’s decision to unconditionally withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, 113 10th Mountain Division soldiers from C-Co, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment were ordered to secure Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA), the last U.S. military footprint in Afghanistan, for six weeks as the Taliban closed in and captured Kabul. One of the witnesses at the hearing, Command Sergeant Major Jake Smith, the current CSM of 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division, was responsible for closing down Bagram Airfield during the withdrawal. Responding to my questioning at the Congressional hearing, CSM Smith’s testimony highlighted the monumental mission asked of and valiantly executed by C-Co, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment at HKIA between July and August of 2021.
Over 20 years, the 10th Mountain Division deployed to Afghanistan 36 times. They were one of the first and last conventional Army units to serve in Afghanistan. In 2001, the 10th Mountain Division supported special operations units as a quick reaction force. The 10th Mountain Division then led a coalition force in Operation Anaconda to establish a U.S. foothold in Afghanistan and push enemy forces. Their professionalism and bravery led the coalition forces to successfully stabilize Afghanistan, remove Al-Qaeda, and prevent another large-scale terrorist attack from happening on U.S. soil.
The 10th Mountain Division will go down in history as the first Army division to spend 20 consecutive years in combat or in a constant state of combat readiness. This is a tremendous feat necessitating great sacrifice that must not be forgotten. Throughout this series of nearly nonstop deployments, 180 10th Mountain Division soldiers were killed in Afghanistan. These soldiers and their families made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our nation and we are forever indebted to them.
U.S. military presence in Afghanistan was characterized by operational and tactical successes, like those of the 10th Mountain Division, that served as a beacon of hope for the free world. However, the Biden Administration’s decision to unconditionally withdraw resulted in a colossal strategic failure as well as the devastating loss of 13 servicemen and women. We must critically dissect the decisions made leading up to and throughout the entire 20 years of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. This is why I worked to establish a commission that will examine key decisions and develop a series of recommendations to inform future decision makers.
While we honor the second anniversary of the catastrophic withdrawal and work to hold those responsible accountable, it is critical that we honor and highlight the Servicemembers and their families who for over 20 years served and sacrificed valiantly to protect America.
Read Elise’s op-ed in NNY360 here.