Bush, who ordered American forces to invade Afghanistan twenty years ago, on Monday said he and his wife felt "deep sadness" watching the chaotic U.S. withdrawal and the Taliban rapidly re-capture the country.
In a letter, George and Laura Bush wrote, "Our hearts are heavy for both the Afghan people who have suffered so much and for the Americans and NATO allies who have sacrificed so much." Under Bush, U.S. forces toppled the Taliban government in Kabul who had hosted al Qaeda militants responsible for the 2001 hijacked plane attacks in New York and Washington.
That decision lead to two decades of haphazard counter-insurgency and efforts at nation-building that the Pentagon estimates cost almost $825 billion.
And it all seemed to dissolve in just a few days.
The Bushes spoke directly to the American service-members who battled militants and built roads in Afghanistan, writing, “You took out a brutal enemy and denied Al Qaeda a safe haven while building schools, sending supplies, and providing medical care.
You kept America safe from further terror attacks, provided two decades of security and opportunity for millions, and made America proud.
We thank you from the bottom of our hearts and will always honor your contributions.” But that message might not mean much in Bentonville, Arkansas, where Jill Stephenson remembers her son, Army Ranger Ben Kopp.
Kopp was 21 when he was killed in a firefight with Taliban forces in 2009, one of more than 2,300 U.S. military personnel who died there since the invasion.
"I do not feel that my son died in vain.
I think it's important for me to make that clear." But the Taliban takeover has stirred strong emotions in this Gold Star mother.
"It's very sad and maddening to watch 20 years of blood, sweat and tears by thousands, thousands, tens of thousands of our military just get wiped off, you know wiped away in the blink of an eye, it's what it feels like and making it worse, rubbing salt into that wound for me is that it comes on the heels of the 20th anniversary of 9/11." Stephenson said she's deeply worried for the future of the Afghan civilians she believes her son was able to help before he died.
"I heard firsthand from a seven year old little girl the things that she was able to do in her life and the things that she had to look forward to because of the sacrifices made.
My heart breaks for her now my heart breaks for any little girl that's in Afghanistan, for the women of Afghanistan."