A first for the US military: the war in Afghanistan ended with zero AID

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When the last US military cargo plane left Afghanistan in August, marking the end of America’s longest war, it also marked a largely overlooked accomplishment. For the first time in the nation’s history, a major conflict was ending without the US military leaving any troops behind: no one was missing behind enemy lines, and no anonymous and unidentified bones were left behind. will be solemnly buried in the Tomb of the Unknowns.
It is an astonishing change from previous wars which ended with thousands of soldiers lost forever, their families wondered what had happened to them.
Christopher Vanek, a retired colonel who commanded the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment, spent 6.5 years deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, and participated in a number of very search and rescue operations. publicized. He said rescues had become the priority. Even for low-ranking troops with little strategic importance, he said, the military spared no effort to locate the missing.
When two navy sailors disappeared in 2010 in Logar province, south of Kabul, “all combat operations were abruptly stopped,” Vanek recalled. “We had 150 planes trying to find them. We have refocused all our efforts, shifting from fighting and killing Al-Qaida to recovering these men. The bodies of the two sailors were located and recovered several days later.
There are several reasons why no one was left behind this time around. In Afghanistan, the fighting smoldered more often than it ignited, and it lacked the full-scale chaos that has led to many casualties in the past. Modern DNA analysis can identify any military person from a sample of a few bone fragments. And unlike the jungles of Vietnam or the beaches of Tarawa Atoll, it was just as difficult to lose sight of a comrade in the dry, open terrain of Afghanistan.
But the determining factor, experts say, is a military culture that has changed dramatically since the end of conscription in the 1970s. This culture now makes the recovery of troops – dead or alive – one of the top priorities of the military. the army. “It has become almost a sacred commitment by the nation to those who serve,” Vanek said. “It’s hard to overstate the amount of resources that have been committed to finding someone who has been lost.”
“Direct rescues are hard as hell because the enemy has all the cards,” Jimmy Hatch said. World War II left 79,000 Americans missing. The Korean War, 8,000 more. Vietnam, 2,500 more. Rescue efforts in Korea and Vietnam were few and many American soldiers lost their lives in prison threatened with torture. After Vietnam, however, the nation’s attitude began to change, according to Mark Stephensen, whose father was a fighter pilot who was shot down over Vietnam in 1967.
Stephensen was 12 when his father’s plane crashed, and his family received little information. Desperate for resolution, the family banded together with others to form the National League of POW / MIA Families, lobbying politicians and generals buttoning up the halls of the Capitol to demand action. Over time, they have made their cause an essential bipartite issue. “Before that, people missing in action were not a priority,” said Stephensen, who is now vice-chairman of the group.
The change has also come from within the military, said Leonard Wong, a retired Army War College researcher who has studied the growing importance the military places on leaving no one behind. When the military became a fully voluntary force in the 1970s, he said, conventional troops adopted many of the professional values ​​of elite forces like the Green Berets, including a line from the Ranger Creed: “I will never let a fallen comrade fall into the hands of the enemy.


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