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Veterans Who Supported Ending The War In Afghanistan Describe Seeing The Country Fall

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Many veterans have long supported ending the war in Afghanistan, but they also watched with anger and disbelief as the country fell to the Taliban seemingly overnight. Steve Walsh with KPBS in San Diego reports.

STEVE WALSH, BYLINE: Veterans watched all in disbelief. A war that had disappeared from the front pages was suddenly everywhere.

JAMES SEDDON: A few times, I felt physically dizzy.

WALSH: James Seddon is a former naval officer from San Diego. In 2009, he was a liaison officer in Afghanistan.

SEDDON: The chaotic scenes at the airport, an airport I've been to, you know, many times - and seeing pictures of the Taliban in the presidential palace, a place I've been to - and I need to, you know, prep myself for more scenes like that because more are coming.

WALSH: Seddon says the lack of terrorist attacks by al-Qaida over the last 20 years is proof that the war wasn't fought in vain. Zalima Shaver is an Army staff sergeant stationed at Wright-Patterson in Dayton, Ohio. She says she believes it was time for the U.S. to leave Afghanistan.

ZALIMA SHAVER: That is their country. They're never going to change - never, ever, ever, ever going to change. We are not going to change them. As you can see right now, 20 years and look how quickly the Taliban jump back in there.

WALSH: Shaver was a civil affairs officer in 2008 and 2009, overseeing reconstruction projects in Afghanistan. She is concerned about the fate of Afghan women, especially younger women who believed in American promises. As painful as it is to watch, she says the U.S. did as much good as possible while the Americans were there.

JASON LILLEY: I personally, individually, think this was a complete waste of time.

WALSH: Jason Lilley is a former Marine Raider who lives in California. He was in Afghanistan in 2009 and again in 2012 and 2013.

LILLEY: It could have been quite different if we would have went in hard, hit it hard as we could for a few years and did exactly what we were supposed to do, and that's get rid of the Taliban, get rid of al-Qaida, get rid of Osama and then got out. Why 20 years?

WALSH: For Matt Dearing, it's a different story. The Marine veteran worked to train Afghan police and military as a civilian in the Defense Department. He says the U.S. should have spent more time trying to win people over instead of trying to build up the Afghan military and central government.

MATT DEARING: I think we need to reexamine how and whether we do, you know, these large-scale military capacity building operations. That doesn't mean that we stop doing - we stop engaging with our partners

WALSH: Dearing thinks the U.S. should have stayed in some capacity and that leaving in such a chaotic fashion will have long-term consequences. Tom Porter, a Navy Reservist, was in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011. He's now with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a service organization for post-9/11 vets. Porter has been reaching out to fellow vets watching it all unfold in real time.

TOM PORTER: To see it all melt away in a matter of hours, it's shocking, and it's angry. And you're going to have a lot of veterans, service members, their families wondering, you know, what was it all - was it all worth it?

WALSH: His suggestion? Reach out to veterans to ask about their service, leave politics at the door and just find out how they served during America's longest war.

For NPR News, I'm Steve Walsh.

(SOUNDBITE OF IMAN OMARI SONG, "MOVE TOO FAST (FEAT. ANNA WISE)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.