The Inside Story-Mission’s End TRANSCRIPT

TRANSCRIPT  The Inside Story: Mission’s End  Episode 13 – November 11, 2011        Show Opening Graphics:      Voice of KANE FARABAUGH, VOA Correspondent:    They were there at the start…      Rhonda Lawson, U.S. Army Veteran:    I will never consider our presence in Afghanistan a failure.         Dan Millbauer, U.S. Army Veteran:    It’s hard to say the mission might have been accomplished in total.         KANE FARABAUGH:    … now at the end, U.S. military veterans and the families of the fallen reflect on America’s longest war.        Denise Williams, Illinois Gold Star Mothers President:     I get asked, “was it worth it? “        KANE FARABAUGH:    A Veterans Day view from the homefront on the legacy of the war in Afghanistan … now on “The Inside Story: Mission’s End”         The Inside Story: Mission’s End:    KANE FARABAUGH:    Hi. I’m VOA Midwest Correspondent Kane Farabaugh, reporting from the Middle East Conflicts Memorial Wall in Illinois.     Veterans Day, which initially marked the armistice that ended World War 1 in 1918, is a federal holiday observed every November 11th honoring U.S. military veterans for their service to the nation. This is the first Veterans Day since the end of the war in Afghanistan, the longest conflict in U.S. history.     Here in Marseilles, Illinois, the names of more than 2,400 American men and women who died serving in Afghanistan are a permanent reminder of the cost of the war, and the sacrifices made.  
Etched in these black panels are the names of thousands more Americans who died in other flashpoints in the Middle East, including Iraq.    But in 2002, this memorial didn’t exist. The were no U.S. forces on the ground in Iraq. And fewer than 10,000 U.S. service members were committed to fighting terrorism in Afghanistan.    That’s when I traveled there, towards the beginning of the conflict, just months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks… meeting up with some of the first men and women serving in Operation Enduring Freedom.     The U.S. military had been in Afghanistan just a few months when I landed at Bagram Airfield in May of 2002 on a reporting assignment for the American Forces Network.         Brian Cole, U.S. Army Officer:     I’m Major Brian Cole with the United States Army reserve with the 489th Civil Affairs Battalion.        KANE FARABAUGH:    I met Brian Cole while distributing supplies at a recently re-opened school shut down by the Taliban prior to the U.S. invasion…      Brian Cole, U.S. Army Officer:    I think I’m in the land of the giants sometimes.        KANE FARABAUGH:    …in the remote village of Karabagh Bazaar which, we were told, had just been cleared of landmines.          Brian Cole, U.S. Army Officer:    Because when we write letters home, we tell them that the people of Afghanistan need school supplies.    I look at what we are doing as an extension of our foreign policy of having the people come back from Pakistan and Iran back into Afghanistan and if we want to have the people come back, we need to assist them once they can get here to help them get established.         KANE FARABAUGH:    That same day Cole delivered food to another remote village, all part of the U.S. military’s strategy to win the “hearts and minds” of the Afghan people.          Brian Cole, U.S. Army Officer:    And what we are doing by bringing the school supplies and food now is we’re serving as a stop gap until the non-governmental organizations get here so they can take over our mission.4        KANE FARABAUGH:     It’s been more than nineteen years since I met Cole in Afghanistan.          Brian Cole, Kentucky Park Ranger:    How y’all doing?        KANE FARABAUGH:    After some effort tracking him down, I learned he safely returned home.  We reconnected in July at Fort Boonesborough outside Lexington, Kentucky.           Brian Cole, Kentucky Park Ranger:    I’m a state park ranger now, and I have like a phobia against trash because that’s one thing they were doing… they would take MRE (meals ready to eat) boxes and put explosives in it, or just roadside trash would all of a sudden become a mine, would become an explosive.         KANE FARABAUGH:    Despite the risk, Cole felt his unit’s objectives were clear.          Brian Cole, Kentucky Park Ranger:    Our mission was to help – two things – to gain support for us being there, and to put in the water wells and things like that, and to help gain acceptance for the U.S. forces being there, and also the bigger picture was to help gain support for the newly established Afghan government.        KANE FARABAUGH:    Cole believes the “big picture” lost focus when the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003.       Brian Cole, Kentucky Park Ranger:    You can only have one main effort.  And we tried to have two main efforts and I think we took our eye off the ball when we did that.  KANE FARABAUGH:    The war in Afghanistan took a personal toll on Cole. His daughter was just a month old when he deployed, and his absence was difficult for his family back in Kentucky.           Brian Cole, Kentucky Park Ranger:    My wife, she never accepted me going, and we never recovered from that, and I ended up divorced.         KANE FARABAUGH:    Cole says he made sacrifices to build a better Afghanistan but that that mission was never accomplished.        Brian Cole, Kentucky Park Ranger:    I think a better way to say it is the mission’s over.         KANE FARABAUGH:    Cole says the legacy of the U.S. military in Afghanistan is best measured by what didn’t happen.          Brian Cole, Kentucky Park Ranger:    We were able to keep similar 9/11 attacks from occurring and I think they would have had we not gone.  The training camps would have flourished even more so.      KANE FARABAUGH:    Which is why he feels the U.S. military should have stayed in Afghanistan, pointing to forces stationed in countries like Germany and Japan since World War Two as a precedent.     Brian Cole, Kentucky Park Ranger:    If you leave too soon, you’re back too early.        KANE FARABAUGH:    Cole has since retired from the U.S. Army.  He says he has few regrets about his service in Afghanistan – but one is losing contact with his Afghan interpreter.        Brian Cole, Kentucky Park Ranger:    Hyadet – I’m hoping I can track him down and maybe serve as a sponsor for him back here if he’s able to come to the United States.        KANE FARABAUGH:    Why?      Brian Cole, Kentucky Park Ranger:    I loved him…. I mean… he kept us safe.        KANE FARABAUGH:    And he was with you every day?        Brian Cole, Kentucky Park Ranger:    Right.  Yep.  Literally by my side.          KANE FARABAUGH:    Was it hard for you to leave him?        Brian Cole, Kentucky Park Ranger:    It was.  I remember telling him, don’t let these guys get you killed man.        KANE FARABAUGH:    Cole credits his interpreter with saving the lives of his fellow soldiers, and his own.    What will you do if you can get him here?        Brian Cole, Kentucky Park Ranger:     Give him a place to live.        KANE FARABAUGH:    How do you think he would appreciate that?        Brian Cole, Kentucky Park Ranger:    Oh, he’d love it.  We talked about that.  We talked about coming to the United States.        KANE FARABAUGH:    Cole still didn’t know the status of his Afghan interpreter as the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan neared its conclusion, culminating in the chaotic exodus of tens of thousands aboard planes departing the Kabul Airport.    Brian Cole, Kentucky Park Ranger:    So, I’m hoping that he’s able to come with a program to bring him to the United States.  We definitely need to bring them back and keep them safe. We owe that to them.        KANE FARABAUGH:    My assignment to Afghanistan in 2002 was to understand the conditions and motivations of service members who were spending their first Fourth of July holiday after 9/11 in Afghanistan, trying to rout the al-Qaida terrorist network.         Dan Millbauer (from Armed Forces Network report):      Meanwhile an Air Force B-52 was also in the area on a planned mission to bomb suspected Taliban and Al Queda locations.         KANE FARABAUGH:    My friend and American Forces Network colleague, Staff Sergeant Dan Millbauer, accompanied me on our first experience in a combat zone.          Dan Millbauer, U.S. Army Veteran:    When you come into the country the way we did in a military aircraft and under cover of darkness to avoid being shot at and landing in a corkscrew kind of pattern, that’s kind of when it first hits you that, ‘Oh yeah, this is real. We are going into harm’s way.      KANE FARABAUGH:    At the time, nearly 10-thousand U.S. forces were in “harm’s way,” many based at Bagram Airfield which was quickly growing into one of the largest U.S. military facilities in the world.     It’s where Rhonda Lawson served with a U.S. Army mobile public affairs detachment, or MPAD, which hosted us in Afghanistan.    Rhonda Lawson, NCOIC 28th MPAD:    I’m a print journalist by trade.        KANE FARABAUGH:    To keep U.S. troops there informed, her team produced a base newspaper and other products.         Rhonda Lawson, NCOIC 28th MPAD:    We run stories not just here at Bagram but also stories from Kabul.  Every once in a while, we might get a story from Kandahar or from Uzbekistan.         Rhonda Lawson, U.S. Army Veteran:    What I took pride in doing was telling the soldiers’ story. We talked about the mission but at the same time what I wanted people to know was that our soldiers were real people.  Our soldiers had families.  Our soldiers had feelings.        KANE FARABAUGH:    US troops also received messages from back home showing passionate support for their mission.         Rhonda Lawson, U.S. Army Veteran:    One of the cards that I got, it just said ‘Kick Bin Laden’s ass’ on it.  So, there was this sense that we needed to get revenge.               KANE FARABAUGH:    But finding Bin Laden took nearly a decade.  Neither Lawson nor others we spoke to during our 2002 visit…        Unidentified Soldier:    It’s like a long ass camping trip.        KANE FARABAUGH:    …thought operations in Afghanistan would become the longest in U.S. history.         Rhonda Lawson, U.S. Army Veteran:    Desert Storm, a lot of the fighting ended in about six weeks, so I think people thought this would be quick like Desert Storm.         Dan Millbauer, U.S. Army Veteran:    Of course, a lot of us thought that any operations around 9/11 response would be temporary or quick.         KANE FARABAUGH:    As the war in Afghanistan dragged on, Millbauer returned to Afghanistan a second time in 2003 to work with a psychological operations or “PSYOP” unit.       Dan Millbauer, U.S. Army Veteran:    It’s really trying to strategically put out information.      KANE FARABAUGH:    Millbauer says noticed some things had changed when he returned to Bagram Airfield.          Dan Millbauer, U.S. Army Veteran:    There was more activity, more people there, and I think more coalition partners had forces there.         KANE FARABAUGH:    And working in Afghanistan was more dangerous, says Millbauer. He vividly remembers a close call during a mission to support a remote Afghan radio station.         Dan Millbauer, U.S. Army Veteran:    I heard this whistling of an RPG coming in… so, it passed over my head.         KANE FARABAUGH:    No one was injured, says Millbauer.  For him, the constant threat of attack didn’t change his outlook on U.S. military objectives, including helping locals in have a better life.         Dan Millbauer, U.S. Army Veteran:     Some of the things we did was to provide them with clean water sources, and lots of money to improve their lives, s0 in that regard, I was behind that all the way.        KANE FARABAUGH:    Millbauer and Lawson were two of more than 775,000 U.S. forces who served at least one deployment to Afghanistan since 2001.  Despite the country now falling back into the hands of the Taliban, Lawson – who retired from the U.S. Army in 2017 – believes the U.S. effort was not in vain.          Rhonda Lawson, U.S. Army Veteran:    I will never consider our presence in Afghanistan a failure.           Dan Millbauer, U.S. Army Veteran:    You know, it’s hard to say whether the mission was accomplished in total.        KANE FARABAUGH:    Millbauer, who left the military in 2007, feels the U.S. reached the point of doing all it could in Afghanistan.          Dan Millbauer, U.S. Army Veteran:    We’ve found and eliminated Osama Bin Laden. You know, I think after 20 years, it’s probably time to get out of there and let them try to take care of themselves the best they can.         KANE FARABAUGH:    Many Afghans are worried about how they will be treated by the Taliban, who took control of most of the country as US forces pulled out of Afghanistan – ending America’s longest conflict.           KANE FARABAUGH (TV clip while reporting in 2002):    Here at Kabul International Airports where we’ve ben following…       KANE FARABAUGH:    My first visit in the spring of 2002 reporting for the American Forces Network from the newly liberated capitol city of Kabul, Afghanistan started in U.S. Army Major Patrick Flanagan’s military Humvee as we departed Bagram Airfield.     The two-hour ride in a small convoy on a sixty kilometer stretch of highway cut through the remote countryside and brought Flanagan and his unit into contact with foreign troops, Northern Alliance fighters and wary Afghan citizens.          Patrick Flanagan, Retired U.S. Army Officer:    I remember the first couple of rides into Kabul, they would say ‘Oh, you’re with the killers.’  And I’m like, ‘the killers?’  They said, “You’re here to kill the al-Quaida, the Taliban, the bad people.”          KANE FARABAUGH:    That perception didn’t meet the reality of this day’s mission.         KANE FARABAUGH (TV clip while reporting in 2002):    When United States Psychological Operations Army forces go into stores in Kabul like this one,   they’ve got several things in mind.       KANE FARABAUGH:    Our journey led us to Kabul’s famed “Chicken Street,” where Flanagan’s objective… was to shop.           Patrick Flanagan, U.S. Army Psychological Operations:    We are buying some school supplies, purchase them to take them back up to our area in order to give them to the locals, to have them promote, that they are in charge of their schools, and they want to take care of their people as well as the teachers that are working hard to support the education effort for Afghanistan.         KANE FARABAUGH:    Delivering school supplies, along with leaflets and other material labeled with slogans and messages was part of Flanagan’s U.S. Army “psychological operations” or PSYOP mission.            Patrick Flanagan, Retired U.S. Army Officer:    It’s the military’s form of influence.  It would be like if you would hire a marketing campaign to sell Coca Cola.          KANE FARABAUGH:    Flanagan says the intent of PSYOP wasn’t to mislead or indoctrinate, but to educate and protect.          Patrick Flanagan, U.S. Army Psychological Operations:    It’s not so much taking information trying to use it for or against the population, but an appreciation and an understanding for what they are going through so we can use the themes and symbols and messages to better assist themselves and as well as coalition forces.         Patrick Flanagan, Retired U.S. Army Officer:    Don’t step on IED’s or report if there is unexploded ordnance. So, some of them was just to inform them so it didn’t hurt them, but others is like – you know the coalition; you shouldn’t throw rocks at their trucks.  Or the coalition are friendly.  So, a whole series of messages designed to help them understand why we’re here so they wouldn’t have someone else to answer those questions for us that really didn’t like us.           KANE FARABAUGH:    Today, remnants of Flanagan’s PSYOP mission are stored in his rural Virginia basement, memories of Afghanistan where he lived and worked for a total of two years over multiple deployments supporting a mission he sees today as incomplete.          Patrick Flanagan, Retired U.S. Army Officer:    And I think at times, because of some of our actions, we’ve hardened the people that don’t like us.  I think it was polarizing, not through our effect through psychological operations but I think it just accentuated people that were just living and working on the farms were like, “yeah, we like this, we’re getting some help.” But then they were agitated by the Taliban who would say, “we don’t want you to help them,” so they would think of new ways to cause havoc and chaos and pain because they also wanted to win the hearts and minds of the people, so you had this struggle.        KANE FARABAUGH:    Flanagan retired from the Army in 2011 and has spent time since working for a U.S. military contractor.      Through his brother, former Illinois Congressman Michael Flanagan – now a Washington D.C. consultant – he had opportunities to share his views on his time in Afghanistan with other legislators and policymakers.          Patrick Flanagan, Retired U.S. Army Officer:    I think we should have left a while ago. I think we overextended our stay.         KANE FARABAUGH:    Flanagan feels the U.S. achieved its goal of breaking up Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist operations in the country but lost the effort to nation-build in Afghanistan.         Patrick Flanagan, Retired U.S. Army Officer:    Hindsight is 20/20 but yes, I think we should have said, “ok, he’s done now, where’s al-Qaida?” and let’s have some sort of ramp off so the military can exit.        KANE FARABAUGH:    Flanagan wants a parade or celebration marking the return of U.S. forces back home.          Patrick Flanagan, Retired U.S. Army Officer:  Just to say, “thank you very much” and when that’s over it kind of finalizes it, and it’s done, and you can look back and say that’s finished.           KANE FARABAUGH:    But Flanagan’s hopes to serve the public again. He is seeking opportunities to run for political office where he hopes to use the experience he gained in Afghanistan while in uniform to shape future U.S. foreign policy.         MSgt Lawrence Taylor, 241st Air Traffic Control Squadron:    After September 11th, I knew eventually it was going to be a matter of time before we were gonna get called up to perform our duties as necessary as Guardsmen.          KANE FARABAUGH:    Lawrence Taylor worked as an air traffic controller in San Jose, California, on September 11, 2001. Just four months later, he was among the first uniformed members of the military on the ground at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.                MSgt Lawrence Taylor, 241st Air Traffic Control Squadron:    When we showed up, the tower itself wasn’t in the best condition. The ceiling had a mortar hole in it. The conditions here were dismal. We came here with basically nothing, and we set up an air traffic control facility from the ground on up.          KANE FARABAUGH:    When I first met Taylor in May of 2002, serving with the U.S. Air National Guard in Afghanistan, flight operations at Bagram Airfield had picked up pace. Most serving at the time of my reporting assignment for the American Forces Network were part of Operation Enduring Freedom — the military’s official name for the mission to eliminate the al-Qaida terrorist network that used Afghanistan as a haven to launch attacks.            SSgt Steve Hutcherson, 241st Air Traffic Control Squadron:    As a Guard unit going out and doing this kind of stuff, this is the first time that we’ve ever done this.          KANE FARABAUGH:    Steve Hutcherson was working the radar system at an aviation facility in St. Joseph, Missouri, during the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. When I visited him in a radar trailer near the flight line of Bagram Airfield in 2002, he had been in-country nearly five months.             SSgt Steve Hutcherson, 241st Air Traffic Control Squadron:    You are a part of it. You are not just watching it on TV and now you are over here and actually part of getting things straightened out. It’s a pretty patriotic thing.          KANE FARABAUGH:    Hutcherson’s first combat deployment wasn’t his last.      Steve Hutcherson, U.S. Air National Guard Veteran:     Was home for about six months, and we got the call again, and we got over to Iraq and spent a little time over there.         KANE FARABAUGH:    It wasn’t hard to track down Hutcherson 19 years after we first met. He still works for the same Air Traffic Control Squadron in Missouri he deployed with in Afghanistan and Iraq. Only now, he’s a civilian with the unit after retiring from the Air National Guard.            Steve Hutcherson, U.S. Air National Guard Veteran:     People in now know nothing but Afghanistan. And nothing had really changed since we first went in there and took control of everything.           KANE FARABAUGH:    Hutcherson says he wasn’t surprised by the rapid advance of the Taliban in regaining control of Afghanistan.            Steve Hutcherson, U.S. Air National Guard Veteran:    I would have been more surprised if we watched the news and saw the Afghan army fighting the Taliban. That would have shocked me much more.         KANE FARABAUGH:    But Hutcherson doesn’t believe the end result changes the success of the mission.                Steve Hutcherson, U.S. Air National Guard Veteran:    The mission was to stop another 9/11-style attack. It’s been 20 years since it happened, and we haven’t had one. Really, I mean honestly, I don’t think most of us think about terrorism anymore. We’re so divided right now amongst ourselves that we’ve forgotten about international terrorism.          Lawrence Taylor, U.S. Air National Guard Veteran:    For me, it was more personal than political, because I felt like I had an obligation to do something, and that’s why I was an airman.          KANE FARABAUGH:    Nineteen years after I met him in the control tower at Bagram Airfield, Taylor invited me to visit with him at his suburban Chicago home.            Lawrence Taylor, U.S. Air National Guard Veteran:    I think when I showed up, there might have been a little over 100. But when I left, there might have been about 8,000 people, maybe 9,000.          KANE FARABAUGH:    Taylor served in Afghanistan for almost a year, also later deploying to Iraq. Before retiring, he received one of the highest honors in the U.S. Air Force — the Air National Guard Senior Non-Commissioned Officer of the Year award.        Today, he works for the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, and watched the fall of the Afghan government — and the loss of U.S. strategic resources, including Bagram Airfield — unfold in recent weeks.              Lawrence Taylor, U.S. Air National Guard Veteran:    I thought we’d be there forever.          KANE FARABAUGH:    Taylor says the current circumstance in Afghanistan does little to change the way he views how he and his fellow military members served their country.            Lawrence Taylor, U.S. Air National Guard Veteran:    Me, I’m glad I got to go. At the time, I think it was worth it. I still do. But I’m sure I’d get a good argument from a lot of people.           KANE FARABAUGH:    It’s an argument that policymakers, politicians, historians and voters will also debate for decades to come, as the U.S. involvement in Afghanistan closed amid the chaotic and dangerous evacuation of tens of thousands of U.S. citizens, troops and their allies at the Kabul airport.          KANE FARABAUGH:    Is the mission accomplished or is it simply over?        Lawrence Taylor, U.S. Air National Guard Veteran:    I don’t know.  I mean I really don’t know.  I mean I think that would be something more for the taxpayers to answer, the politicians.  And I went there for, you know, my own reasons and my perspective and what I thought was right.  To look back on it, I think that’s something that other people…. I’ll let them decide.        KANE FARABAUGH:    So far in this program, we’ve heard directly from veterans who served.    They are some of the more than 750,000 American service members who deployed at least once to Afghanistan.     More than 20,000 were wounded.     More than 2,400 never returned.  
  Those are the names which are etched on these panels.        Denise Williams, President, Department of Illinois Gold Star Mothers:     This is not a legacy and a reminder of death to me. This is a reminder to the living that everything you have was purchased with these names, with these lives.          KANE FARABAUGH:    Denise Williams is a regular visitor to the Middle East Conflicts Memorial Wall along the banks of the Illinois River near Marseilles, Illinois.            Denise Williams, Illinois Gold Star Mothers President:     This memorial represents those who have died since 1967 in all Middle East conflicts. People forget we lost three soldiers in the Yom Kippur war in 1967.  The infamous “Blackhawk Down” in Mogadishu – they’re here. USS Cole – they’re here.  So, it’s not just post 9-11, it’s all Middle East conflicts.            KANE FARABAUGH:    But there is one name on these walls closest to William’s heart – her son’s, Andrew Meari.      Denise Williams, President, Department of Illinois Gold Star Mothers:    It’s comforting that my son is with his brothers and sisters where he needs to be, where he should be, where he chose to be. That his name will be remembered.            KANE FARABAUGH:    PFC Andrew Meari was deployed with the Army’s 101st Airborne Division in southern Afghanistan during the U.S. troop surge in 2010 when a suicide bomber on a motorcycle detonated a device near his outpost.  One of the soldiers with Meari that day, Sgt, Felipe Pereira, later recalled the incident in a video produced by the U.S. Defense Department.            Sgt. Felipe Pereira, 502nd Infantry Regiment:     I run down the hill even further, that’s when I got to PFC Meari, you know… the soldier just turns to me and says, “man he’s dead – he’s gone. He’s gone.”             KANE FARABAUGH:    Andrew Meari was just 21 years old when he was laid to rest on Veterans Day, November 11th, 2010 near his home in Illinois.        Meari visited his mother on leave just weeks before he died.  Williams says even then, he never wavered in his understanding of the mission to eliminate terrorist threats in the country.            Denise Williams, Illinois Gold Star Mothers President:        He absolutely believed if we were not fighting them there, we would be fighting them here.  He believed in what he was doing.  He believed in the righteousness of it.                KANE FARABAUGH:    Williams views that objective in Afghanistan as a success.  Osama Bin Laden was captured and killed less than a year after her son’s death.           
Denise Williams, Illinois Gold Star Mothers President:       Everything else we did in Afghanistan – while there are many noble causes, there are many noble ideas – that’s not what a war is about, that is not what soldiers are for.  Soldiers don’t dig wells, and build schools, and my son participated in some of that.  That’s not the purpose of soldiers.          KANE FARABAUGH:    Today, Williams represents Illinois Gold Star Mothers as the non-profit service organization’s President.            Denise Williams, Illinois Gold Star Mothers President:      We are the mothers of those who have lost their child or children because of their decision to put on their nation’s uniform.         KANE FARABAUGH:    As the United States marks the first November 11th Veterans Day after the end of the war in Afghanistan – a date which also marks exactly 11 years since she buried her son – Williams answers a difficult question she is often asked.            Denise Williams, Illinois Gold Star Mothers President:       I get asked was it worth it? There is no such thing as your child’s death being worth it to a mother’s heart. Period. But… my son didn’t fight for the Afghan people. He didn’t fight for a political party. He did not fight for anything other than the Constitution, the oath that he swore. He fought for the American people – for America.  America is worth fighting for.  KANE FARABAUGH:    Thanks for joining us for this special edition of “Inside Story.”  I’m Kane Farabaugh.     Connect with us on Facebook and Instagram @VOANews.     You can also stay up to date online at     See you next week for The Inside Story.     ###         

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