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Lets Go Home: Afghan War Vets Torn on US-Taliban Deal

SAVANNAH, Ga.—Veterans of Americas longest war are finding themselves torn as the United States signs a potentially historic peace accord with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

For many, the United States is long overdue in withdrawing its forces after more than 18 years of fighting. Others question the trustworthiness of the Taliban, whose hard-line government the U.S.-led forces overthrew in 2001. Skeptics worry the Talibans reintegration could cause Afghanistan to backslide on such issues as human rights.

“If they sign a peace treaty and Afghanistan goes back to the Taliban or Sharia law, then its all been for nothing,” said former Army Staff Sgt. Will Blackburn of Hinesville, Georgia.

U.S. First Lt. Shane Oravsky, left, of the 101st Airborne Division searches a house
U.S. First Lt. Shane Oravsky, left, of the 101st Airborne Division searches a house
U.S. First Lt. Shane Oravsky (L) of the 101st Airborne Division searches a house with an Afghan police officer in Mandozai, in Khost province, Afghanistan, on April 18, 2008. (Rafiq Maqbool/AP)

Though doubtful the Taliban will abide by the peace deal, Backburn said hes ready for hostilities to end. He first deployed to Afghanistan in 2004 with an infantry unit of the Armys 10th Mountain Division. A decade later, his son headed overseas for the same fight.

“Anything that would get us out of that country, I will support fully,” said Blackburn, 58, who left the Army in 2010.

Other Afghanistan veterans interviewed by The Associated Press said that, while the peace deal may not be perfect, its time to end the war that began weeks after the 9/11 terror attacks.

The toll has been heavy. More than 2,300 U.S. service members have been killed and more than 20,600 others wounded in Afghanistan since the war began in October 2001.

Former Sgt. Michael Carrasquillo served as an infantrymen in the Armys 173rd Airborne Brigade when his unit was ambushed in Afghanistan in 2005. Shot five times while dragging a wounded comrade to safety, Carrasquillo spent the next two years in the hospital and underwent dozens of surgeries.

“Peace in any way, shape, or form is a good thing,” said Carraquillo, 36, of Monrovia, Maryland, who leads a support group for wounded veterans through the Wounded Warrior Project. “We dont want more guys to die or to get injured.”

The peace plan calls for the Trump administration to initially draw down U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan from 13,000 to 8,600. A timetable for a complete U.S. withdrawal hasnt been verified.

In return, the Taliban promise not to let extremists use the country to stage attacks on the United States or its allies. The Taliban and representatives from Kabul must negotiate a framework for a postwar Afghanistan.

“I know the Taliban, and I never thought they could be trustworthy,” said Cmdr. Tom Porter of the U.S. Navy Reserve, who oversaw media operations in Afghanistan during the U.S.-led troop surge that began in 2010. “I know they have a different view of time and history than we do.”

Porter said hes concerned the Taliban could abide by the accord long enough to see American forces leave, then try to wrest control of Afghanistan under an assumption the United States wont be willing to return for another fight.

“If youre the Taliban, people have come and gone and invaded that place for thousands of years,” said Porter, head of government affairs in Washington for the group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “Ghenghis Khan has come and gone. Theyve got a long view of things.”

Former Army Capt. Emily Millers job focused on communicating with Afghan women and children on deployments in 2011 and 2012 to assist U.S. special operations forces. She said protecting womens rights and human rights overall needs to be a priority.

Overall, Miller said, shes thrilled to see a chance for Afghanistan to break from its long history of perpetual war.

“There is this new generation and I think its really time to unlock that hope and optimism of Afghans that are really open to peace,” she said. “Whats the alternative to peace? This endless cycle of violence doesnt really lead anywhere.”

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