Yes, you made a difference

Responsibility for the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan rests on many shoulders, including those of some American political leaders. I’m afraid that the result will be not only unspeakable tragedy and suffering for the Afghan people, but also greater danger for Americans here at home. I am concerned about the future.

But most of all, my thoughts are with the men and women of the United States military and intelligence community who served in Afghanistan, as well as their families. Many of them are inevitably asking themselves whether their service and sacrifice was worth it.

The clear, unified answer they should hear from our national leadership and from the American people is: Yes, you made a difference for the better, you defended our country and you saved American lives.

By the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, after having left the Pentagon a few minutes before the plane hit and then being evacuated from the Capitol complex, I could never have imagined we would go 20 years without a repeat of that terrible day — or worse. There have been other terrorist attacks, and many more plots were foiled. But amazingly, we have not seen another successful attack of that magnitude.

Maybe it’s not so amazing after all to those who witnessed the service and sacrifice of dedicated professionals taking the fight to the terrorists and making it exceedingly difficult for them to replicate the death and destruction of that day. Some Americans paid the ultimate price with their lives. Others were badly injured and live every day with the consequences. Families have born the absences, temporary or permanent, of their loved ones.

I saw some of what they did from my position on the House Armed Services Committee and my eight visits to Afghanistan. After every trip, I came away in awe of them. While no military operation is ever without flaws, their accomplishments in disrupting terrorist plans and organizations — in fighting them over there so we would not have to battle them in our homes and workplaces over here — are remarkable. Perhaps we would do well to consider what our life would have been like had these incredible Americans not been so successful. Plus, they gave the Afghan people, especially the women, a glimpse of a better life.

Now, the outlook of the fight against terrorism darkens as they again have a safe haven from which to plan, prepare and operate. But nothing that has happened diminishes in any way the honor, the courage, and yes, the achievement of the American military and intelligence community over these last 20 years in protecting our nation. And our gratitude and respect to each of them should be all the greater.

Former Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, served as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

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