The last couple of weeks have been full of coverage and commentary about the U.S. military leaving Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan and the nearly complete withdrawal of American troops. Our time in Afghanistan is indeed coming to an end. Perhaps just about every single news media outlet has published or shared some article or thoughts about this withdrawal. How come these events are so significant?

SOF Humvee along the Helmand River in Afghanistan
A SOF Humvee along the Helmand River after a multi-day campaign to push Taliban and other Jihadist forces out of an Afghan village in Uruzgan, Afghanistan. (Courtesy of author)

A Bitter-sweet Event and a Confusing Sentiment

For many people, like myself, this is an extremely bitter-sweet event for many reasons. Having served in Afghanistan in the U.S. Army, I still miss it, after many years. I have come to the conclusion that I will always miss it. There will always be a huge sense of frustration, romanticism, and nostalgia about Afghanistan.

In Francis Ford Coppola’s acclaimed Vietnam war movie Apocalypse Now, Charlie Sheen plays U.S. Army Captain Benjamin L. Willard. At the beginning of the movie, just as he is about to return to Vietnam for a special mission, his thoughts summarize this seemingly impossible irony quite perfectly: “When I was here, I wanted to be there; when I was there, all I could think of was getting back into the jungle.”

Now, of course, we can replace “jungle” with “the most beautiful, desolate, remote, backward, primitive, mountainous desert in the world.”

This sentiment, I am sure, is shared by thousands of Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, and Sailors who passed through this place, at one time or another, during the last 20 years.

Afghanistan does have something both truly remarkable, and truly romantic about it. Yes, romantic. I fully recognize that this sounds completely crazy. Afghanistan is magical. It has an inexplicable allure. A charm in its chaos and a magnetism in its ruthlessness. There’s something poetic in the harshness of its reality. Don’t ask me to explain how or why. You need to have been there to understand.

I still want to go back.

During our time in Afghanistan we beheld ancient ruins.
Ruins along the Helmand River in Uruzgan Province, near the city of Deh Rawud. (Courtesy of author)

Afghanistan, a Graveyard of Empires

Afghanistan has often been called the Graveyard of Empires. Should we place one more tombstone in the cemetery?