After Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Israel “DT” Del Toro Jr. left Afghanistan in 2005, doctors gave him little chance to live. Del Toro Jr. managed air support for special forces and other missions, and he was severely burned and wounded when an improvised explosive device hit his Humvee. He did survive and later reenlisted in the Air Force.
With all that Del Toro Jr. sacrificed for the U.S. and its mission in Afghanistan, he now feels like U.S. leaders have let down him, and let down the people of Afghanistan that the military was trying to help.
He has watched with anger, frustration and sadness as the U.S. evacuation of Afghanistan, and the Afghan government itself, have collapsed with stunning speed in the last week during a swift Taliban takeover.
“It seems like we just kind of gave up,” Del Toro Jr. said. “All that blood and sweat and tears and treasure that we fought for, sometimes it feels like, what did we do it for? A participation trophy?”
U.S. Rep. Jason Crow also served in Afghanistan as an Army Ranger and shares that frustration.
“It was heartbreaking, it was tragic. Seeing those scenes was terrible for all of us,” he said. ”Had we started that evacuation over the last three to four months, we could have done it in an orderly way.”
Crow is focused on helping US citizens, interpreters and other allies get out of Afghanistan
The congressman from Colorado says since April, has been pushing the White House to do more to help Afghan allies, including interpreters who worked with the U.S.
And while there is now a larger U.S. military presence at the airport in Kabul to oversee evacuations, Crow said more needs to be done, including setting up a tent city at the airport to keep people safe.
“That’s why I’m calling on the Biden administration to send in the necessary troops and resources,” he said. “If there's ever a moment to overdo it, now is that moment. It's always better to have more force than less in a situation like that.”
Crow said the top priority should be to get U.S. citizens, including Afghan Americans, out of Kabul. Then the U.S. also has a responsibility to help Afghan partners and allies leave the country, he said.
“This is a moral issue, but it’s also a national security one,” Crow said. “If the United States of America won't stand by its partners and its friends, we're not going to have partners and friends. We won't be able to meet the threats of the future and deal with a very uncertain world without our alliances, without our allies.”
Those partners and Afghan people are also on the mind of Del Toro Jr. He said it’s understandable that the U.S. would eventually leave Afghanistan. But he added, “It’s the manner we left, how we just abandoned those people, how we abandoned our allies.”
Del Toro Jr. said when he was in Afghanistan, “I had [the] Afghan National Army there with me, battling and dying by my side, and those interpreters.”
Veterans say they're upset that progress could be lost
Air Force Veteran Josh Kuper, who lives in Centennial, said what’s making all this difficult for him is knowing the ideology of the Taliban can turn back the progress of the last 20 years.
“That's the hard part, knowing that there are people there who want progress and that's just not going to happen. And they have to worry about their future and their family and there’s only so many ways out.”
Kuper deployed to Afghanistan with the military and also returned several times as a contractor.
Del Toro Jr. agrees the potential for a return to old ways makes him feel particularly frustrated and disappointed. As part of his time in Afghanistan, Del Toro Jr. said he helped establish a school for girls, and now he thinks about those women and what could happen to them under Taliban rule. He imagines they could be forced to quit jobs and get married if they aren’t married already.
“They just go back to pretty much a second-class citizen.”
Del Toro Jr. said his colleagues from the armed forces now ask him, “Was it worth it?” And he, for one, says yes. “We went out there, we crushed the enemy. We helped the minorities and the girls to have a better life. It's just sad that our leadership let us down and let them down.”
Duane France served two tours in Afghanistan with the Army. France, who lives in Colorado now, said like Del Toro Jr., his emotions about the situation on the ground this week run the gamut from anger to sadness to confusion, particularly because he lost friends in Afghanistan, including Sgt. Eduviges Wolf.
“I'm not looking at this as in how we're leaving Afghanistan has cheapened their death, because I know Sgt. Wolf, I believe she wouldn't want us to look at it that way.”
As Biden stands by his timeline, Crow says the time will come to reflect on the impact of the last 20 years
During an address Tuesday, President Joe Biden stood by his timeline for withdrawal.
“If anything, the developments over the last week reinforce that ending U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan now was the right decision,” he said.
And while Rep. Crow said the focus right now should be on saving lives, he said the time will come to debate any missteps over the last 20 years since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and the problems they caused.
“The president has stood by the fact that he's not willing to pass the buck onto another administration and continue this war, which has gone on way too long and spent too many American lives and way too much money.”
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