The House Foreign Affairs Committee received testimony from retired Lt. Col. David Scott Mann, a Green Beret and founder of Task Force Pineapple, at a hearing about the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
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Chairman McCaul, Ranking Member Meeks, Committee members, thank you for this opportunity to testify before you today. I’m here to relive August 2021 with all of you, not as a Democrat or as a Republican, but as an American combat veteran that’s going to do my best to represent over 800,000 Afghanistan war veterans and their families, but with my own point of view.
I’m a Green Beret and a retired Lieutenant Colonel with nearly 23 years in service and three combat tours in Afghanistan.
I’d like to start with a question. What does an American promise mean today?
There’s a promise in the military that is both explicit and implicit: I have your back.
We were trained that way. It’s in our blood. But in August 2021, the leaders who held us to that standard went silent while our Afghan allies were left behind.
The US Government may not have had the backs of our Afghan allies, but our veterans did.
For as long as we’ve been a nation, our veterans have been a moral compass for doing the right thing, especially in hard times.
As we try to figure out where to go from here, I suspect we’re going to need that moral compass more than ever.
You won’t find many veterans sitting out here today who relish being involved in this Afghan evacuation. We paid our dues, and we tried to move on with our lives.
I know jumping back into the quagmire of Afghanistan was certainly not part of my military retirement plan.
But like thousands of other veterans across the country, watching Kabul collapse on August 15, 2021, I received a phone call from a friend that absolutely crushed me: “I’m not afraid to die,” he said to me. “I just don’t want to die alone.” Those were the words that dragged me back into the Afghanistan conflict.
His name was Sergeant First Class Nezamudin Nazami. But I just called him Nazam. His father was a mujadin fighter who was killed by the Soviets when he was four months old. He had no money, no family, no hope. Yet somehow he became an Afghan commando, one of the elite warriors who were trained by US Special Operations to do really 95% of the fighting in the country.
Green Berets, including me, who worked with Nizam. We loved him like a brother. He volunteered for every mission, every day. He was family.
But despite numerous inquiries to the State Department, Congress, and even Army Special Operations Headquarters about his SIV status, Kabul was falling, and no one was coming to help him.
This was a guy who was shot through the face, protecting us Green Berets from a Taliban ambush. And for me, he was the same guy that, even while he was being hunted and texted by the Taliban, would call me to ask how my kids were doing.
Over the next few weeks, I assembled a small team of volunteers, mostly veterans from across the country, that we called Task Force Pineapple, to guide Nazam and hundreds more to safety. We didn’t have any resources or battlefield access or time, but we had something that a lot of people didn’t: relationships and trust.
We used cell phones, knowledge of the terrain, and an encrypted chat room to guide at risk commandos and their families at night, navigating through that suffocating crowd, through an open sewage canal, and then into position to link up with known NATO service members like Aidan, who were standing watch near a four foot hole in the perimeter fence.
Pineapple wasn’t the only group. There were hundreds of ad hoc volunteer groups doing similar work, many of them sitting out here today. From breakfast tables to basements across the world, Jane, a Gold Star wife who lost her husband, Chris, in Afghanistan; Will, a double amputee, fighting to save the interpreter who saved his life on the battlefield, and dozens, even hundreds more.
We helped hundreds of allies, but thousands were left behind, and at great cost to this vulnerable veteran population who had already given so much.
My buddy Steve, who was racked with post traumatic stress and a traumatic brain injury from an IED, screamed into his pillow and pounded his bed because his children were in the next room as his former interpreter was detained at a Taliban checkpoint and was pleading over the phone, “Steve, they are beating my wife. My children are watching this. For God’s sakes. What should I do? Can I fight them? Why is this happening?”
Jay, a former Navy Seal in Pineapple, received a text on Signal from his Afghan partner: “My daughter has been trampled. Sir, I know we’re going to miss our chance to escape, but she’s unconscious and barely breathing. It’s okay, my friend. Thank you for trying.”
This whole thing has been a gutting experience. I never imagined I would witness the kind of gross abandonment followed by career-preserving silence of senior leaders, military and civilian.
As a result of the way that we’ve left Afghanistan, we’re on the front end of a national security crisis as 27 violent extremist groups are now operating on former NATO security bases with Taliban top cover.
And I think we’re on the front end of a mental health tsunami, as 73% of our Afghan war veterans say they feel betrayed by how this war ended. Calls to the VA hotline have spiked 81% in the first year since the Afghan withdrawal.
And they keep coming. My friend Brad was found dead a few months ago in a Mississippi hotel room. His wife Dana, confirmed to me that the Afghan abandonment reactivated all the demons that he had managed to put behind him from our time in Afghanistan together, and he just couldn’t find his way out of the darkness of that moral injury.
America is building a nasty reputation for multigenerational systemic abandonment of our allies that we leave as smoldering human wreckage from the mountain yards of Vietnam to the Kurds in Syria.
Our veterans know something else that this committee might do well to consider.
We might be done with Afghanistan, but it’s not done with us. The enemy has a vote. If we don’t set politics aside and pursue accountability and lessons learned to address this grievous moral injury on our military community and right the wrongs that have been inflicted on our most at risk Afghan allies, this colossal foreign policy failure will follow us home and ultimately draw us right back into the graveyard of empires where it all started.
Thank you, and I look forward to your questions.
What People are Saying
Veterans comments on the YouTube video:
“Despite the “woke/dei/esg” agendas of many in the top military and civilian leadership today, it is the moral, ethical, and cooperative framework of values most veterans were trained up on that is regrettably missing from our nation’s spirit. It’s long past time we remembered… and acted in accordance with what once made us a great nation.”
“As a former AFPAK Hand, I too feel betrayed and I feel such pain for those I know who were abandoned and left behind.”
“As one of those veterans I can tell you that watching the Taliban rolling around in our trucks, wearing our equipment while terrorizing innocent Afghan civilians tore my heart out. I found myself in a VA clinic a month later shaking uncontrollably filling out a mental health questionnaire. For the first time in my life I had to circle “Yes” when asked if I had suicidal thoughts. My experience pales in comparison to others that I served with and those Afghan allies that fought beside us.”
“As the wife of a veteran who served in Bosnia, IRAQ, AFGHANISTAN and Africa. I can say that the despicable way we left Afghanistan has had serious negative effects on my husband and many of his friends he served with. My husband is angry and has tried to talk our son out of leaving for the MARINES this June. My husband now wishes he would have never served so our son would have never known anything of the military life. Why would any country we are supposed to be allied with trust us again.”
“My contempt for the General Officers and their civilian overlords who presided over the last seven to ten years of our involvement in Southwest Asia deepens daily. I did not realize how incredible were the Colonels and General Officers I worked for in Desert Shield and Desert Storm until I compared them to the officers who followed them. They were outstanding leaders who always did the right thing at the right time for the right reasons. Every conversation with a fellow veteran who served in Iraq or Afghanistan adds to the anecdotal evidence of the incompetence, indifference or moral rot of field grade officers who lost their way years ago. Starting with Obama the warriors were gradually purged and the grass eaters were fast tracked. Under the current administration the emphasis on equality (whatever that means) over performance is beyond dispute. Our once great military has been successfully converted by the left to a social experiment incapable of performing their primary mission of national defense. Well done, Democrats. You could not have done it without commissioned officers who violated their Oath for future seats on boards of directors – and invitations to cocktail parties with connected people. M. J. Conrad, Colonel, USMC (Ret)”
“I had family members that died in WW2 ,I’m a fourth generation patriotic veteran but that ends with me, my son and daughter will not serve to protect what this Country has become and unless it changes nether will my Grandchildren.”
“What this man said literally made me cry. I served in the U.S. military for 30 years, to include a year in Iraq. What our country has done to its military veterans is inexcusable. WE, as military members, put our lives and families in the hands of people we TRUSTED were on OUR side. People WE believed would “have our backs” supporting us. Instead, those people FAILED us. They towed the “party line” fed to them by our government and sacrificed us, collectively, to the god of big government.”
“Retired Navy, married to Retired Navy. Over 43 years of service between us. I can’t help but feel we did it all for nothing. We have been betrayed. We have been abandoned. We have been dismissed.”
“I’m a veteran. The most meaningful thing I witnessed during the whole GWOT era conflict was seeing a woman receive her first book… in a country which forbids women to get an education. America used to stand for something, even through all the politics, bureaucracy and economics. There was still a respect all over the globe that we are the epitome of freedom, taking it as far as it can go in a world of autocracies, dictators and kings.
That sentiment is gone. In the last 5 years watching America, I feel more like an enabler. I feel guilty. I feel like I gave an alcoholic money instead of food. Seeing all the woke, the protests, burnings, lootings, and every aspect of our culture at war from education to the work place, I feel I’ve contributed to creating that “soft men create hard times” part we are entering.
As our culture unravels, so with it the communities, families, churches and all other systems we have to keep people together, connected and safe, I am told I’m the problem. They tell me I’m a white male with privilege. I don’t even tell them I’m native anymore and part of the Catawba nation. I see young men paying for the sins of generations gone by from affirmative action to DEI in the work place. I see them fully qualified and getting rejected because they have the wrong skin color or are the wrong gender to hit some magical formula of equality. They’re learning from this and checking out, leaving colleges, jobs or even the planet via suicide in alarming numbers.
I fully regret having served. All I did was shield a spoiled, entitled, transgender, hateful teenage America from reality. Most Americans have no idea what a warzone will do to people. I burned everything of that life and that person is no more. What this country is about to become will shock even the optimistic of people. We aren’t just tickling a society collapse, a banking collapse, a food shortage, an education crisis. We’re full fledged and on purpose sending our children into a hell beyond tragedy.
And to the Afghanistan we were supposed to help, to the families clinging to the landing gear as we left, to the allies beheaded days after our evacuation… and to all the Americans who do not deserve what is about to happen… I’m sorry. I truly am.”
“The American people largely have no idea of what it was like, year after year, in Afghanistan and Iraq, going into those war zones over and over and over again. It became to me an endless and dark time. The shortest span between deployments was arrive home after 9 months in almost constant firefights in the month of September to going right back in November to face the same level of daily combat for 7 months. I left on combat zone in September feeling lucky to be alive to return for the same two months later. My daughter was four when I first left. She was almost six by the time I came back the second time. She was in middle school when I finished going and retired when the we’re sending me again. My story is nothing compared to others, because in the end over 20 years, the Army was sending soldiers repeatedly, beyond my time if they hoped to get from 12 years in to a 20 year pension. Many never survived. The average person has no idea of the real sacrifice many veterans made from 2002 to 2022. No idea.”
“I choked back an ocean of tears as a veteran understanding full well his words while this honorable man spoke. Our “leadership” in this country has failed us – MISERABLY.”
“I spent 5 tours in the region, this guy nailed the situation.”
“I buried my best friend in Maryland who was a veteran and had a tour of duty in Afghanistan. He was young and extremely smart man. After he came back from Mazar-e-Sharif, he was no longer the same. Before dying, he told me, he made the worst decision of his life when he joined the army.”
“I’m an Iraq and Afghan Vet myself…flew over 170 combat missions and did a special ops support job on the ground at Bagram back in 2007… I was glued to the TV when this all went down and I AM BEYOND DISGUSTED about the stupid and reckless withdrawal from HK…. I was…and still am….proud of my military service because I once believed in our stance in this world… I don’t anymore…. I will ALWAYS be loyal to my country because despite her warts, this country is still the greatest country on earth and I’ll love her til the day I die….But if the Air Force called tomorrow and asked me to come out of retirement to serve, I don’t think I could do it, given the POS that sits in the White House and the liars that put him there… I HAVE NEVER been so ashamed of my own government.”
“As a veteran that brought tears to my eyes. I never in my wildest imagination believed our country would turn its back on those who assisted our troops! Not to ever forget the American citizens who were left behind either.”
“I am an infantry combat veteran and I will agree with one thing; it’s not the war that hurts the most–it’s coming back to to find…a once great nation that is no longer worth the dead friends and the wounds.”
“I spent over 21 years in the Army. I am a combat veteran of Iraq. My son is a combat veteran of Afghanistan. Dad was War II. Grandfather was War I. Great Great Grandfather was with the 11th US Cavalry, Ky Volunteers in the Civil War. I used to be proud of my service, and the years I spent in uniform. I seldom mention it today, or tell people, or talk about it with anyone other than close friends (meaning fellow vets). My wife works for the VA and takes care of my brothers and sisters every day. She’s the hero. It is incredibly sad and disheartening that a man with this Colonels pedigree has to appear before a Congressional Committee and tell them what an abysmal failure US Foreign Policy now is. But I shouldn’t be surprised. We’ve been doing it for years.”
“Speaking as a Vietnam vet I’m disgusted by the shame that this administration has brought upon our military and country. I know there will be zero accountability for those in charge both civilian and military.”
“One Solace that Veterans have is that “I made a difference for good”. This abandonment of the sweat, blood, time away from home, and tears that our veterans suffered is inexcusable and I dare say criminal. (myself desert storm USMC)”
“Thank you for your extremely knowledgeable words Sir. I am a retired Army Vet that after my service has had the honor to worked with a former Afghani man here in the United States. That man and “some” of his family managed to escape before the fall. He has very respectfully shared with some hesitation, his appreciation and disappointment with the U.S. for the way his former Country, family and friends have been treated/abandoned by this “Great” country. We, the United States showed up and told the Afghan people that we would help their country free themselves of the ……….? They trusted us with their lives and the lives of their families (literally). We should all hang our heads in disgrace.”
“Amen brother. As a VietNam combat veteran Officer, I feel and understand your frustration AND disgust. We were betrayed in Nam as were our allies in the ARVN forces, by the very people who sent us there. The reduction of military enlistments and retention of seniors officers and NCOs today is not a mystery.”
“I Salute. you sir one veteran to another. The American government should never be trusted by anyone. They will abandon you, mislead you, lie to you, and then leave you hanging.”
“I saw the anger my Brother-in-law fought to leave behind when he came back reignited and is now harder for him to let go of as he truly thought he was there for a reason and gave him solace in losing his friends as now it feels it was all for Nothing. We MUST have accountability instead of moving on to support another war in Ukraine.”
“I know first hand what abandonment means. I was a Marine infantry platoon commander in Vietnam 1968-69. Hard year. Lost a lot of Marines killed and wounded. What we all knew at the time was that the US had no intentions of wining the war. We defeated the axis powers in WW II in less than 4 years, yet we could not defeat North Vietnam in 10 years of war. Not because we couldn’t, but because our politicians didn’t have the guts to finish what they started: the Vietnam War. The fiasco abandoning Afghanistan reminded me of the evacuation of Saigon some 45 years ago. Same helicopters evacuating the US Embassy, same betrayal of our commitment to the Afghan military and people, same abandonment of billions of dollars of military equipment which the North Vietnamese put to good use, same hunting down of South Vietnamese who helped the US, etc. The US hasn’t won a major war since WW II. We are still technically at war with North Korea, we lost South Vietnam, the 1991 Gulf War was a battlefield victory but left the Iraq government and Saddam in power and when we did take out Saddam, we unleashed ISIS, and we abandoned Afghanistan Saigon style.”
“Both my older son’s dad wanted to go into the military for years. Yet with all this woke nonsense it just didn’t happen. I actually pushed my son’s that way but in the end I agree with them. When my husband died I figured it would be good for my oldest son to join the military just to have that male bonding and companionship. I thought it would be a great place for him to continue to learn to be an honorable man. Yet after what I’m seeing going on years now I’ve changed my mind. Always admired the military. I’ve always looked up to those who have served this country. For a long time I was the only one flying a flag in my neighborhood. Putting a light on it and taking it in every time it rains. I’m not any less patriotic but…. I don’t want my son’s joining the military just to betray their own. I wanted them to learn honor and not cowardice. They are still extremely patriotic but it kind of hurts their souls that their country isn’t what they’ve always been taught it is or what it’s supposed to be.”
“Feeling betrayed is an understatement of how my marine brothers and I feel. My veteran grandfather’s would be rolling in their graves right now. This is the most ass backwards administration in American history. Everything they’ve done to destroy our country and other countries is quite sickening and everything they’ve done is deliberate.”
“I used to be willing to die for what I believed America stood for. Now, I would die to protect my family from what it has become.” (2.6K Likes)
“I was a 12 year old kid when 9/11 happened. I and all of my friends were terrified. Millennials became a war time generation. As me and my friends grew I watched some go off to war in Afghanistan, I watched them change from young dumb kids to very serious, sometimes physically, all mentally injured individuals. They couldn’t come home and be the same people they were before. I listened to their experiences they wanted to share with me, and I held a few as they screamed, and cried, unable to escape the memories that haunted them. When we left Afghanistan, I listened as they shared their anger, their desperation for the people being abandoned. I’m sick over what our government did there, and over what our government has done throughout our history, always leaving the people to suffer the consequences, and people around the world left devastated by our governments actions. Let me be clear, I love this country, and it’s people, but our government is not of, by, and for the people anymore, it’s for the elite, the oligarchs, and the powerful.”