W MI veterans worry troop withdrawal will undo progress in Afghanistan

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — After $2 trillion spent and 2,300 American lives lost over the course of two decades, the United States’ occupation of Afghanistan is coming to an end — but there’s some apprehension about the exit plan.

“I got there (to Afghanistan) in 2009 and I would never have dreamed that we’d be still there 12 years later,” said Brett Allen, a U.S. Army veteran living in Ada.

At one point, the U.S. had about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. President Joe Biden announced this week that the about 2,500 remaining will be withdrawn by Sept. 11. The drawdown will begin by the end of the month.

“I want to see that conflict come to an end,” said Nathan Bidwell, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran living in Kalamazoo. “I mean, that’s the whole mission of the Marine Corps is peace, and if we can pull out of there successfully, I’d like to see that happen.”

Bidwell served in Afghanistan in 2012 and 2013. While he doesn’t want U.S. troops there forever, he’s concerned about what happens next after they’re gone.

“We kind of told the whole world that, you know, we’re kind of washing our hands of this on Sept. 11,” he said. “And I’d hate to see it become a power vacuum like Iraq, just to go back in there later on.”

The war started as a response to the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but became something else. Bidwell’s battalion built roads and bridges.

“The job? I think it could have been done better but I don’t think it’s complete,” Bidwell said.

Both veterans watched the region transform. Infrastructure like schools, roads, bridges and radio stations were built, but the reception felt somewhat cold.

A courtesy 2009 photo of Brett Allen serving in Afghanistan in the U.S. Army.

“We’re just another of many forces coming through there in a number of years and it always felt like they were kind of waiting for us to move on,” Allen said.

He and Bidwell worry that a complete withdrawal will leave the door open for history to repeat itself.

“They’re (Afghani insurgents are) good at attacking, withdrawing, and waiting,” Allen said. “And no matter how long we’re there, they’re going to continue to do that.”

“I don’t want to see another Iraq where ISIS or somebody else comes in or like a new faction of radical ideals or something manifested in that country,” Bidwell said.

There’s also concern that leaving the region will undo 20 years of progress.

“You can ask a lot of veterans, too,” Bidwell said. “We’d hang our heads a little low if something like that did happen again.”

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