Op Ed: Who will defend freedom?

Senator Craig Wilcox (R-McHenry), a 24-year veteran of the U.S. Airforce, recently penned an op ed on the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan:

As a people who enjoy freedom and democracy, I join the vast majority of Americans who are reeling from news that 20 years after brutal Taliban forces were removed from power, they have regained control of Afghanistan and of the Presidential Palace. Knowing that the country’s admittedly fragile democratic form of government has crumbled, and that the Capital City of Kabul is now under the control of violent extremists known for their hatred of the United States and other free countries, is cause for global concern. And like many others, I am experiencing a range of emotions, including equal measures of anger, sadness, and disbelief.

I am a former U.S. Air Force Colonel who spent 24 years in service to this country, so I have strong feelings about what has and is transpiring. I am appalled over our government’s handling of Afghanistan. It is an utter failure of leadership and a failure of the United States that will have ramifications for years to come.

I support the United States’ structure where we elect civilian leaders and have a separate but supporting military. But when elected leaders do not heed expert military advice-especially in times of war or conflict, we are doomed for failure. This is not a single administration critique, but the withdrawal chaos in Afghanistan rests solely with the current administration.

The American people deserve answers, and those who sent their sons, daughters, and loved ones into military service in the volatile middle east definitely deserve answers. If we were going into Afghanistan, or Iraq, or anywhere, why were we not fully committed to rooting out the evil that existed and forcing unconditional terms of surrender?  Was there intelligence that the Taliban were likely preparing for this day since last November’s election?  Was there military advice for how to effectively remove our troops and civilians from the area, or recommended options to disrupt or destroy the Taliban’s surface military potential before it could be used to topple the Afghan government? And were those recommendations dismissed by the current administration?

The actions we have witnessed over these last few weeks and especially over the last several days do not unfold unexpectedly. They result from ignoring or discounting sound military advice. I implore Congress and the media to ask exactly what the President was asked to approve, when, and why military recommendations were not followed. I believe military officials should explain what they knew, what they expected, and what they planned in a detailed timeline to Congress, and someone needs to explain why actions were not taken. 

On a larger scale, I can only imagine how emboldened Russia and China are feeling right now in the wake of this massive American failure. Perhaps now Americans have an inkling of the fear felt in Taiwan, Ukraine, the Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, Iran, the Uighurs in China, and every other population living under authoritarian rule around the world.

The United States used to stand up to bullies, and hold them accountable, but I have seen none of that from the U.S. in far too long. Are we ready to ask our newest generations to defend freedom again soon? Are they ready to selflessly respond as our Greatest Generation once did? Based on the debacle in the handling of the withdrawing of troops and American civilians in Afghanistan, should they even be asked to?

Craig Wilcox

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