Former Navy Seal on 911 and Lessons from Afghanistan

Jack Carr hits the mark with his assessment about the failure of uniformed military and civilian leadership regarding our operations since 911 in the GWOT and the Afghan debacle.

By Jack Carr, US Navy ret
20 years in Naval Special Warfare

Twenty-two years have passed since the attack that changed the course of history and not a day has gone by that I have not thought about 9/11.

In remembering that Tuesday in September, it is hard not to reflect on all that followed.

Two years removed from the disastrous withdrawal of U.S. forces, I think of the flag officers who — year after year, for close to two decades — went before Congress, the American people and their troops, to say time and time again that we were “making progress” and that we needed just a little more time, additional resources or increased funding to capitalize on our hard-earned gains and those of the Afghan people.

These are the same leaders who had 20 years to prepare for an eventual withdrawal. We saw their best efforts play out in real time in August 2021.

Have any been held accountable? The answer is a resounding no.

I encourage all Americans to read Craig Whitlock’s “The Afghanistan Papers” to find out what those same officers were saying in what they believed were to be classified interviews unearthed through two Freedom of Information Act lawsuits.

Politicians and military commanders deceived the public and their own troops throughout America’s longest war — a war the nature of which they did not understand.

Too many elected representatives were blinded by the dazzling array of administrative awards that adorned the left chests of clean and pressed dress uniforms worn by generals and admirals with impressive resumes and taxpayer-funded postgraduate degrees who largely succeeded in organizations where advancement was predicated on checking boxes and impressing the officer a rung above in the chain of command.

Too many of those same military commanders failed upward and now sit on boards of defense industry companies whose weapon systems they approved for purchase while still in uniform. They are now profiting from a new war in Ukraine while enjoying the benefits of a full four-star military pension.

The policymakers, planners and strategic decision-makers will write their histories as did McNamara and Westmoreland. From time to time, they will shuffle before the cameras to promote a new war without disclosing they might benefit financially from the commitment of U.S. or NATO forces attached to lucrative defense contracts.

Today, as every day, I think of those who were left to deal with the strategic blunders of their fathers — the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who returned home dealing with the physical and emotional trauma of the battlefield, those who never came back, those who have taken their lives since.

I think of the blood, sweat and tears of a generation still staining the Afghan soil.

I think of the special operators and CIA officers in the mountains of Tora Bora in December 2001 in what Carl von Clausewitz would have identified as the “culminating point of victory.” And I think of how those far from the battlefield “snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.”

I think of the Taliban’s march toward Kabul in the months leading up to our withdrawal and of the U.S. military abandoning Bagram in the dark of night in early July 2021 — a grim foreshadowing of what was to come.

I remember elected and appointed officials in Washington, D.C., going on vacation as Kabul fell.

I think of history books unopened.

I can’t help but think of imperial hubris.

I think of lessons not heeded.

On Dec. 24, 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.

After nine years of war, on Feb. 15, 1989, the last Soviet soldier departed the Graveyard of Empires.

The following day The New York Times wrote, “The war … scarred a generation of young people and undermined the cherished image of an invincible Soviet Army … The Soviet Government now faces a period of reckoning with the roots and consequences of the war.”

Just shy of three years later, on Dec. 25, 1991, the red Soviet flag with gold hammer and sickle flew over the Kremlin for the last time.

Lessons …

I think of the intellectual inertia of those we trust to make our strategic decisions.

I think of bodies falling from planes, and of our brave troops forced into tactically disadvantageous positions by those in temperature-controlled offices in The Beltway.

I think of 13 dead Americans coming home in caskets as an elected official and lifetime bureaucrat checked his watch on the tarmac at Dover Air Force Base.

Those 13 dead service members had been doing their duty half a world away amid the chaos of Abbey Gate.

I think of those wounded in that attack, their lives forever altered. The dead and wounded, and their families, trusted the flag officers in starched uniforms, officers not strong enough to stand up and protect their troops from senseless decisions made far from Hamid Karzai International Airport.

I think of U.S. citizens left behind and the fate of our Afghan partners, partners who fought with us and trusted us. Trust.

I think of the beheadings and executions of those we worked with and the torture and murder of their wives and children.

I think of veterans mobilizing and using private funding and assets to extract those who had believed in us.

I think of politicians and media outlets anxious to focus on other stories.

I think of those who will never be held accountable.

I wonder if we will ever learn the lessons of the past and apply them to the future in the form of wisdom.

But — I also reflect on the flags raised in the wake of 9/11.

I remember the firefighters, police officers, paramedics and first responders who ran into burning buildings that fateful day 22 years ago this morning.

I recall the hundreds of thousands of Americans who lined up to give blood.

I am reminded of the Red Cross personnel who manned shelters and served meals to rescue and recovery workers alongside volunteers combing through the rubble at Ground Zero.

And I am touched at the memory of families who gathered in communities across the nation in candlelight vigils.

Today, I remember those who stood up in the aftermath of the attack to answer the call. They raised their right hands and swore an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

Those memories give me hope, hope that as Americans it is still possible to band together and move forward stronger and wiser.

I have hope because there are those who believe in holding the line despite the actions of those in suits or tailored uniforms in the nation’s capitol.

At this very moment, there are troops deployed abroad at the tactical level, special operators and intelligence officers tasked with keeping America safe, dedicated to preventing another 9/11.

And there are firefighters, paramedics and police officers responding to calls right now, protecting and serving their fellow citizens, ready to run into collapsing buildings as others run out.

There is hope in the lessons of the past and in the lessons of the U.S. experience in Afghanistan.

But, as it was passed to me in the SEAL Teams, hope is not a course of action.

Our future depends on dusting off the history books, heeding their lessons and then applying those lessons going forward as wisdom.

We owe those who sacrificed their lives on 9/11 and in the Afghan dirt nothing less.

Jack Carr led special operations teams as a Team Leader, Platoon Commander, Troop Commander and Task Unit Commander. Over his 20 years in Naval Special Warfare he transitioned from an enlisted SEAL sniper, to a junior officer leading assault and sniper teams in Iraq and Afghanistan, to a platoon commander practicing counterinsurgency in the southern Philippines, to commanding a Special Operations Task Unit in the most Iranian influenced section of southern Iraq throughout the tumultuous drawdown of U.S. Forces. Visit him at and follow along on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook at @JackCarrUSA.

First published on Fox News

” . . . . . .revelation after revelation from people who played a direct role in the war from leaders in the White House and the Pentagon to soldiers and aid workers on the front lines. In unvarnished language, they admit that the US government’s strategies were a mess, that the nation-building project was a colossal failure, and that drugs and corruption gained a stranglehold over their allies in the Afghan government. All told, the account is based on interviews with more than 1,000 people who knew that the US government was presenting a distorted, and sometimes entirely fabricated, version of the facts on the ground.. . . .”

Comment by STARRS Chairman, Lt. Gen. Rod Bishop (USAF ret): On related note–this brings back memories of one of the worst Army-related experiences I ever had. My 3 star XO boss loved to travel so as a 2 star I was the AF rep in the DCS ops tank for a year. 95% of the tank meetings were on what would be the next Army unit to rotate to Afghanistan. On two separate occasions I raised the question on progress being made–what metrics were we using and shouldn’t that be part of the brief–the Army 3 star just dismissed me as “who is this 2 star even questioning what we are doing?” He had the support of Ron’s classmate Lt Gen Norty Schwartz–who was the DJCS at the time–the second time I brought it up–Norty said “we are Fxckxng at war Rod” (stop asking such stupid questions).

Just like the time I was the DM4 for the Air War with Serbia and the decision was made to deploy M1 tanks to Albania–I had traveled the road from Tirana to Serbia/Macedonia a few years before on a NWC trip and knew there was no way those tanks were going anywhere close to Serbia from Albania–terrain would not allow (road was hardly wide enough for a minivan)–told that to the 2 four stars I worked for in that role–SACEUR and USAFE/CC–again just dismissed. When I brought it up to the CSAF when flying him into Tirana–he told me he broke the tie in the tank voting for the deployment as he felt the decision would help “jointness.”

790 C-17 missions later–Task Force Hawk was deployed…and went nowhere–I was restrained and didn’t say “I told you so” when ordered to begin planning on deploying TF HAWK to a dirt strip on the other side of the mountains, since TF Hawk leadership (5th Corps) finally realized they weren’t going anywhere due to the terrain.

Sometimes it is like a stupid spell comes over people!

Reply to comment by STARRS Vice Chairman, Major General Joe Arbuckle (USA ret): You were asking the exactly right questions but it appears group think would not allow them to be logical and rational in considering your questions. Your example illustrates that our top military has become “yes men” based on the PC infused into the ranks beginning with Clinton. Decades of PC have taken their toll.

This disease of PC is what we witness today but on steroids where in mass the top uniformed leadership salutes and marches off to execute devastating programs called DEI and CRT. We have apparently lost the ability for independent critical thinking within our top ranks and with that the ability to stand tall and say NO to actions and programs that do serious damage to our military.

This applied to the GWOT as you witnessed in your example and now to Ukraine. No one is asking “what is the end game” and “how do we define mission success”? All we are doing is throwing money at a war of attrition with no end in site. What ever happened to negotiating for peace?

The most important word in the military dictionary is “WHY”. Why are we doing this??? Sadly, it appears that word has been lost.

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