There were two important hearings regarding Afghanistan on the Hill last week — in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and at the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ (CPC) third forum examining the war. Both raised critical questions about the current strategy of escalation — questions Congress should take to heart as it considers the $83 billion war supplemental in coming weeks.
Senator John Kerry — who as a young Vietnam veteran famously asked the Foreign Relations Committee, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” — now chaired that same committee’s hearing titled “Voice of Veterans of the Afghan War.” He said in his opening statement that he “would not compare all of our conflicts to the Vietnam War…. [That] does not mean, however, that there are no parallels between the two wars.” The hearing bore out some of those parallels.
There was a diversity of opinion among the four veterans and retired Colonel Andrew Bacevich as to whether sending more troops is the right thing to do. But there was also something they held in common: their connection to this war — its stakes, costs, and consequences — is very personal (in the case of Bacevich his personal connection comes not only from having served in Vietnam but also losing his son in Iraq.)
Retired Corporal Rick Reyes was the most vocal of the Afghanistan War veterans in opposing escalation. He spoke of his determination — and that of his fellow Marines — to “fight the enemy” following 9/11. But Reyes said that instead they were “sent to fight an enemy we could never see. The entire time we were there, we were chasing ghosts.”
Reyes’ mission was to “locate and capture suspected members of the Taliban” during nighttime raids. But it was impossible to distinguish between suspected terrorists and the civilian population and “we began creating enemies out of innocent civilians.” He told a story of beating a suspected terrorist “to submission” only to discover he was a civilian trying to deliver milk to his kids.