A grassroots movement of U.S. veterans is headed to Washington this week to demand Congress re-evaluate its hawkish foreign policy.
Hundreds are expected to be in attendance Wednesday as veterans and state lawmakers from across the nation meet with their representatives and senators to discuss the effects of an 18-year-old conflict on America’s morale and military.
While assembled in the capital, the small host also plans to officially announce the introduction of legislation in 22 states aimed at preventing the deployment of U.S. troops in wars not declared by Congress.
Spearheading this effort is Bring Our Troops Home, a nonprofit veterans organization dedicated to fighting what it calls the federal government’s “default” support for military intervention in the Middle East.
The goal, organization founder Dan McKnight told The Western Journal, is for the veterans’ congressional delegations to “look them in the eye and listen to their stories.”
“It’s not necessarily a protest or a march,” McKnight said. “It’s more of an education and a precedent, where we are showing that veterans are now coming together and speaking up against these endless wars.”
The groundwork for this “coming together,” he said, has long been in the making, cemented in communal frustrations from a war in Afghanistan that has lasted nearly two decades.
BRING THEM HOME 🇺🇸https://t.co/iLCW5buAUT
— Bring Our Troops Home (@TroopsHomeUS) November 5, 2019
‘Fighting and Dying and Bleeding’
A veteran himself, McKnight served for 13 years before a non-combat injury ended his military career.
Transitioning from Marine Corps reservist to Army soldier to Army National Guardsman, the Idaho native eventually found himself on an 18-month deployment to Afghanistan between 2005 and 2007.
Stationed in the northeastern Afghan province of Kunar, McKnight was confident in the mission.
That is, until returning home.
“I started seeing my same friends go back for their third, fourth, fifth, sixth deployments,” McKnight said, “started seeing younger and younger soldiers that were coming home maimed and injured.
“They were fighting for the same territory that we were fighting for when I was there. …
“[In] 2013, the United States completely pulled out of northeastern Afghanistan — the Korengal Valley, the Pech River Valley, the border of Pakistan, where we were fighting and dying and bleeding — and turned the territory right back over to the Taliban.”
A Frustrating Ally
For some, that fighting and dying and bleeding was being done without the proper equipment or support.
Part of an “official and unofficial branch of the U.S. military,” according to McKnight, National Guardsmen were often treated as “second-class soldiers” and left out of supply lines for basic items such as boots, goggles and extra uniforms.
Having a connection to then-Idaho Gov. James Risch, commander in chief of the state Army National Guard, the soldier finally resolved to pick up a satellite phone, climb the tallest hill he could find and call for help.
Within two days, a notification was received saying the Idaho National Guard’s basic needs were going to be met — and fast.
“I held Jim Risch up as this hero on a pedestal,” McKnight said. “I really thought he was a true supporter of the military. And so I always just kind of admired him and followed his career.”
Years later, however, the Idaho Republican would prove a “frustrating” ally, he said.
Trading in the governorship for a U.S. Senate seat and eventually assuming the role of Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Risch made bold promises with regard to the Afghanistan War.
One such promise came at public event in Boise, Idaho, earlier this year, where Risch said he was “through trying to do nation-building,” according to the Idaho Statesman.
Idaho GOP Sen. Jim Risch Offers Citizenship to Kurdish, Syrian Populations https://t.co/mFSEsy140S
— Joshua Powell 🇺🇸 (@avatarjoshua) November 4, 2019
“I thought, holy crap, my senator agrees,” McKnight told The Western Journal. “He’s a powerful man, the chairman of a powerful committee. He’s going to go back to Washington, D.C., and he’s going to end this war.”
“I thought, Mr. Stewart didn’t have to go to Washington, I did it right there from Boise, Idaho,” he added.
According to The Associated Press, however, Risch would soon break that promise, voting in opposition to the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan and Yemen on multiple occasions.
The senator also went on to favor a resolution offering Kurdish rebel forces a home in the U.S. when President Donald Trump withdrew an American tripwire force from northeastern Syria last month, prompting a Turkish invasion.
Mr. McKnight Goes to Washington
In an effort to see politicians like Risch recommit to their promises, the fast-growing Bring Our Troops Home movement is now gearing up for a year-end push for non-interventionist policy on the Hill.
A focal point in this push is the coming announcement of state-level legislation aimed at forcing Congress to terminate the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force and reclaim its Article I war powers.
Crafted by veteran and West Virginia state Del. Pat McGeehan, the legislation weaponizes state’s rights to halt troop flow to the Middle East — forcing governors to withhold National Guard troops from deploying overseas without a congressional declaration of war.
“Lawmakers in 20 states are going to join with us and propose this legislation all at once this coming spring,” McKnight said. “And what that will do is force Congress to reclaim their authority under the Constitution to be the only authorized body to declare war.
“If they want to use the National Guard to go fighting these wars, which they do, because there’s not enough troops in the active military to maintain the pace of the mission right now … they have to reclaim their authority and they have to formally declare war and create a clear mission.”
“It’s important they [Congress] put their name on the line before we put our boots on the ground…give us proper authorization to fight these wars, give us a clear mission & let us come home when it’s done.”
-Sgt. @DanMcKnight30 on @FoxBusiness pic.twitter.com/qPa6SPmRrg
— Bring Our Troops Home (@TroopsHomeUS) November 11, 2019
Wyoming state Reps. Tyler Lindholm, a Republican, and Andi Clifford, a Democrat, will host a policy briefing alongside McGeehan on Wednesday focused on the legislation and the importance of mobilizing state and local legislatures to fight military intervention overseas.
According to a news release from the nonprofit, similar briefings tackling the impacts endless wars have had on minority groups and the military at large will be held Wednesday at the National Press Club — along with a keynote address from retired Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc, a 36-year veteran who served 10 tours in Afghanistan.
A Generational War
“We have got to think about the scars left on a generation that is raised in perpetuity of war,” Lindholm, a Navy veteran, told The Western Journal.
“We’ve always bounced back and forth with different engagements and whatnot when I was growing up,” the Wyoming legislator said, “but it was never a continuation of a war policy where Mom and Dad served overseas and now I can serve in the same place and kill the same people.”
The Afghanistan war has gone on so long that people born after 9/11 can now enlist https://t.co/Of7kIQXXTH
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) September 13, 2018
For Lindholm, this is direct evidence that U.S. foreign policy has “failed the American people.”
Undefined Goals, Uncertain Moral Conditions
But veterans in the Bring Our Troops Home movement emphasize this failure is not the result of a failed military mission.
It is the result of a failure to properly define victory or a moral rationale for continued combat operations.
The AUMF’s objective — to eliminate those involved in planning and perpetrating the 9/11 terrorist attacks — was, by and large, accomplished by the early 2010s.
Yet, with Osama bin Laden killed and the Taliban regime in Afghanistan disrupted, U.S. troops remained in the Middle East, supplementing and training regional forces.
Twice deployed to the southwestern Afghan province of Helmand, Marine Corps Sgt. Benjamin Adams saw the impacts firsthand.
Deploying first in 2011, at the end of a surge in U.S. deployments to Afghanistan, Adams spent months establishing battlespaces and overseeing the development of infrastructure in the province.
A highly effective military force was being forced to act as a “static police force,” he told The Western Journal, and the mission quickly became, “Make sure you bring back as many guys as you can.”
— Afghanistan in Media (@AFG_in_Media) October 12, 2019
“Since we were so spread out in the area of operations, it was almost like, don’t kick the hive too hard,” he said.
Power struggles and corruption within allied local forces, however, made accomplishing the mission a nightmare, Adams indicated in an October Op-Ed in the Washington Examiner.
“We’d capture bomb makers and hold them the maximum time allowed before being forced by the rules of engagement to give them to the Afghan Police,” he wrote, “who would promptly release them back into the population to make more bombs to kill Marines.”
According to Adams, American troops were even forced to look the other way as Afghan officials engaged in an age-old cultural practice that allows male elders and authority figures to enslave and sodomize young boys.
“The payback came when one of these boys — seeing us as allies of his rapist slave master — murdered three Marines,” he wrote.
Declare War or Divert Course
Yet, for all the “seared consciences” seemingly forced upon U.S. troops by months and years under morally grey rules of engagement, the Taliban have only grown stronger.
“My last deployment there was seven years ago,” Adams told The Western Journal. “The entire region that we were in at the time, we have left. And it didn’t take more than a couple of weeks for the Taliban to move through.”
According to the Washington Examiner, things are getting worse elsewhere in Afghanistan, with 2019 already being declared the worst year for American combat deaths since the end of Operation Enduring Freedom in 2014.
For McKnight, that surge was marked by the August death of Army Green Beret and fellow Idaho native Dustin Ard, the Idaho Press reported.
Washington (CNN) — Sgt. 1st Class Dustin Ard, a Green Beret from 1st Special Forces Group, died from wounds sustained during combat operations in Zabul province, Afghanistan, on Thursday, the Department of Defense said Saturday. pic.twitter.com/m71kx97TH2
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) August 31, 2019
In light of Ard’s death, the nonprofit founder organized a Veteran’s Appreciation Night that saw locals filling the stands at a Rocky Mountain High School football game to support Idaho’s Gold Star families.
“It just showed you that Americans, they do support our troops,” McKnight said. “But the concept of supporting troops has always been waving a flag, giving up your seat on an airplane, giving out a free meal on Veteran’s Day or clapping at a parade.”
According to McKnight, however, years of such displays of enthusiastic support for veterans have had profound negative effects, often being “used by politicians as a way to get America to blanket support these endless wars.”
But Wednesday’s events in Washington — the Bring Our Troops Home movement as a whole — is meant to combat that type of manipulation, he said.
“This military is professional,” McKnight said. “They are the most powerful force the world’s ever known. We will go anywhere, we will fight anyone and we will do anything … if Congress will simply do their jobs and give us the honor and the dignity of a formal declaration of war.
“Absent that declaration of war, we don’t have any business being in these places.”
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