WASHINGTON – As President Trump develops a new strategy for Afghanistan, Jerry Wolf, a World War II POW and Purple Heart recipient, said the Afghanistan war is “not like the other wars” of the past and questioned how the U.S. will be able to win.
Trump reportedly told generals the U.S. is “losing” the 16-year conflict and has not approved a plan for the next steps in the war.
PJM asked Wolf if he thinks Trump should continue the war in Afghanistan or begin to withdraw troops from the country.
“It’s hard to say. I mean, what is the gain? OK? What is the win? I must say that the only war we won, really, that really had a fight was World War II. OK? What’s the threat to this country from Afghanistan? OK? So I weigh it in a different way. Is it worth even one death? What are we protecting?” Wolf said after a National Purple Heart Day ceremony Monday at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
“We were there early on and we turned it over to say they’re ready to take over their own country. Do they have that will? We’re supposed to be teaching. We’re not supposed to be losing so I am not against it, we are in there already, but you’re going to go with the country. I mean, it’s not like the other wars, even Vietnam. We had never had a threat except World War II…. I thought that war was to end all wars,” he added.
Wolf said suicide bombers in Afghanistan and Iraq pose a great danger to the U.S. troops on the ground.
“They don’t really cherish life. Look at the suicide bombers,” he said. “How do you fight them? You can’t.”
Pete Fairchild, chapter commander of Military Order of the Purple Heart, said he does not want to see Afghanistan collapse but U.S. casualties and the number of troops wounded is of great concern.
“I wouldn’t like to see Afghanistan descend into chaos. I wouldn’t like to see Iraq descend into chaos, but there was a lot of bloodletting in the first 10 years of the 20th century. We lost about 4,000 in Afghanistan, about 6,000 in Iraq; that’s a lot of dead. For every one of those, there’s 6, 7 or 8 that are wounded. About half of those are seriously wounded, so not just American money and treasure but American blood has been sacrificed over the last 16 years,” he said.
“So Mattis and Trump and the rest of them, they’ve got hard decisions to make about whether to continue this and if so for how long. People get tired of wars. They got tired of the Vietnam War about 1971, 1972, you can read the history. And the worst thing is when people get tired of war and they get bored with the war and then they don’t even want to cope with the soldier and his needs as he returns. Tough decisions. I think Mattis and the uniform chiefs have better information than I do,” he added.
Ernesto Hernandez, a Purple Heart recipient, told PJM the U.S. should have “a minimum” of 100,000 to 150,000 troops in Afghanistan if the Afghan government wants the U.S. military to stay.
“Look what happened the first time we left. You had the Taliban move in. A lot of terrorism-sponsored groups went there, and so my personal opinion is what does the host country want to do? What does the government of Afghanistan want? If they do truly want us there, I think we should increase the number of troops but start focusing on the civilian transition of education, roads, infrastructure and growing it,” he said.
Hernandez addressed concerns that Trump might violate his “America First” pledge by authorizing more military involvement in places like Syria.
“I think he’s still putting America first because our security should be the first thing we consider. We saw on 9/11 what happened and how it changed the face of war and how it changed the landscape here in the U.S. If you go up to the White House there’s now a bunch of barriers,” he said. “You can’t get that close to it. So, I strongly believe our nation’s defense is America first, and unfortunately that means tentacles out in other countries such as Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and others, the Philippines, which we forget about.”
Jack Leonard, a Purple Heart recipient and the national adjutant at MOPH, said the U.S. has a “moral responsibility” to stay in Afghanistan at this time.
“Exactly in what strength and what capacity, what we can afford to do, what we should do – those are issues I know the president and his security council and obviously the chiefs of the military services are also debating that,” he said. “We’ve got real challenges within the military now. Two catastrophic plane crashes in the last couple of weeks that killed a lot of Marines. We’ve been on a war footing with all branches of the armed forces now for almost 15 years and it’s used up whatever residual surge capacity that we’ve got.”
Leonard was asked if he is satisfied with Trump’s handling of military matters during his time in office.
“I think the president has done a remarkable job in addressing and interpreting what the U.S. military is capable of doing. I think he’s getting a very good appreciation for those things they can’t do. Whether or not the current policy, so to speak, of tasking the military with nation-building – I think it has some merit but we can only assist nations in nation-building with the whole of the apparatus of the United States, not just the military,” he said.
Purple Heart recipient Tyrone Carelock assessed Trump’s job performance as well.
“It’s going to be moderate because, I mean, he has been working with the VA to keep things going at the VA, which is very important because we don’t want any of those guys to lose their benefits. Certain things they need to work on, I think, like the budget,” he said.
Carelock hopes more money is put toward the treatment of the soldiers returning home.
“They are going to need a whole lot of treatment and I think that’s where the money should be going,” he said. “It’s a long process and it’s not easy when you come back. It took me a while to adjust.”
Carelock is divided on whether or not the U.S. should remain in Afghanistan after 16 years.
“The Taliban is over there. They don’t really want the United States over there, so it’s a do and a don’t. I have this bracelet I am wearing right now and it says ‘until all come home,’ and that’s what I’m waiting on,” he said. “I prefer they come to some kind of point and let’s end this thing. I mean, Iraq was long enough and we lost quite a bit, 3,000 I believe. It doesn’t look so good because the last report I got they are sending 3,000 more [troops] to Afghanistan.”