Once a special operations forces Marine Raider in Afghanistan, 41-year-old veteran Jason Lilley has had to work through feelings of anger and betrayal for fighting a war in which "the whole point was to get rid of the Taliban.
We didn't do that." Lisa Bernhard produced this report.
Jason Lilley was a special operations forces Marine Raider in Afghanistan who fought in multiple battles during America’s longest war.
Now home in Garden Grove, California, the 41-year-old has been reflecting on President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan after a nearly 20-year conflict… expressing his love for his country, but also dismay over the more than 3,500 U.S. and allied military deaths for a mission he says was a failure.
"One hundred percent, we lost the war.
The whole point was to get rid of the Taliban.
We didn't do that.
I mean, really, make it really simple.
Did we do that?
No." Lilley said he deployed believing the U.S. was there to defeat the enemy, stimulate the economy and uplift Afghanistan as a whole.
In total he spent almost 16 years on the front lines of America's Global War on Terror.
He now compares the war in Afghanistan to Vietnam - saying both conflicts had no clear objective, multiple U.S. presidents in charge, and a fierce, non-uniformed enemy.
“Was it really worth it?
You know, I don't think it was on both sides.
I mean, honestly, like, war should be avoided at all time." That’s quite a turnaround for the grandson of a World War Two fighter who was raised on “Rambo” movies.
“It's not black and white.
There's definitely thick gray.
So, you know, over there for nine months and then countless fights, you know, you start to question like, what good are we actually doing?" The war also resulted in the deaths of at least 66,000 Afghan troops, more than 47,000 Afghan civilians – with nearly 3 million Afghans forced to flee.
Biden says the Afghan people must now decide their own future.
The withdrawal has bipartisan support.
Lilley is now vice president of the veteran-operated Reel Warrior Foundation, which helps veterans re-adapt to civilian life by taking them on fishing trips.
He says he has seen several mental health counselors to help him work through his feelings of betrayal.
"There was a point where I couldn't even look at the flag, I mean, it took me a few years to really let go of my anger and like I don't want to say I felt used, but I did at the same time.” When asked about Lilley’s comments, U.S. Central Command had no comment.
Lilley's opinions are his own and some veterans differ, just as the American public has different opinions about a war that in 2011 led to U.S. Navy SEALS killing al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
But Lilley hopes his perspective can help inform the country about the costs of entering war.
"Don't rush into the racket of war, into the machine of making money.
At the end of the day, I think, I hope we need to learn from this."