In the aftermath of 9/11, President George W. Bush signed a joint resolution authorizing the use of force against those responsible for the terrorist attacks, which led to the creation of Operation Enduring Freedom (later known as Operation Resolute Support) — the official name for the military operation in Afghanistan.
This year, President Joe Biden announced the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan, 19 years and eight months since the beginning of the operation.
On Aug. 30, the last U.S. soldier, Chris Donahue, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, left Afghanistan.
But the withdrawal was not without tragedy — 13 service members were killed in a bombing outside of the Kabul airport. Two of the service members served at North Carolina military bases: Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune located in Jacksonville, and Army base Fort Bragg located in Fayetteville.
The recent events remind us of the significant impact that soldiers from North Carolina had on the conflict in Afghanistan, and can help us remember those who sacrificed their lives to ensure our freedom.
Just days after the 9/11 attacks, 75,000 Marines were authorized to support the operation to Afghanistan. With Camp Lejeune being the largest Marine base on the East Coast, they supplied a large number of soldiers to the operation.
In November of the same year, it was Camp Lejeune's 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division that secured the burnt-out embassy in Kabul, and assumed control over the city airport in Kandahar. It was Afghanistan’s second-largest city, which served as a strategic stronghold until the recent evacuation.
Twenty years later, a plaque is on display at Camp Lejeune for the service members who have died in Afghanistan. Since 9/11, nearly 2,000 Marines have died, and thousands more have been injured.
Fort Bragg, the largest military base in the world and home to the 82nd Airborne Division, often known as the first responders of the military, also played a pivotal role in Afghanistan.
Beginning in June 2002, soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division deployed to Afghanistan, setting off a chain of units from the post that continually deployed to Afghanistan over the next 20 years.
Special operations that forced headquarters out of Fort Bragg were among the first supporting units in the efforts overseas that helped stabilize the nation.
Our military presence also allowed for not only education for women in Afghanistan, but also secure election — a rarity in a nation dominated by authoritarian rule. The 2004 election was Afghanistan’s first ever democratic election, which was largely enabled by the military's presence.
At least 7,000 American service members were killed in post 9/11 war operations. However, the lasting effects have significantly impacted those who returned home. More than 30,000 veterans of post-9/11 conflict have died by suicide — more than four times the rate of deaths in military operations.
The lasting effects will be felt, even after the last troops leave Afghanistan. Many will return home to face a tougher battle with lasting mental effects. National Suicide Prevention Week also took place in early September, and so it is important to recognize their sacrifice does not stop on the battlefield, but should be remembered even after their military service.
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