Nearly twenty years after it began, the war in Afghanistan has ended with a startling declaration from a Taliban spokesman on the tarmac of the Kabul airport.

“This victory belongs to us all,” bellowed Zabihullah Mujahid.

America’s frantic withdrawal from the war-torn country, exacerbated by the tragic deaths of thirteen service members last week, has left many angry and heartbroken – and some even questioning whether the two-decade effort was worth it at all.

The cost of war is often calculated in deaths and dollars, two disparate measures that are often conflated together. In fact, the human cost is incalculable – the loss of potential and future hopes and dreams of loved ones almost too unbearable to even ponder, let alone quantify.

Since 2001, 2,461 Americans have died in Afghanistan. But we’re often numbed by numbers – that is until names and faces are attached to them. As thirteen flag-draped coffins returned to the United States this past weekend, and we learned the names and backgrounds of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, the toll seems all the more terrible.

But given the debacle of the last few weeks and the takeover of the country by the Taliban – was the long campaign worth its horrific cost?

The answer to that question is “Yes.”

Did our heroes in uniform die in vain?

To that I would reply a resounding “No.”

One of the great challenges of almost every security-oriented career is that you rarely get credit for what you prevent. That’s because in the United States, especially, peace is the norm. We take it for granted. But peace is only garnered because good guys keep bad guys and their evil at bay by their quiet but brave diligence. 

Let’s face it. It’s usually only the makings of a movie where a bomb is diffused at the last minute in the middle of a shopping mall in Georgia 

In reality, it’s an American patrol in an obscure Afghan village that turns up a house containing rebels ten tiers down the terror chain that would have contributed to the deadly attack in Atlanta. But because a sharp 19-year-old Marine who volunteered to risk his life for ours was doing his job in the middle of the night in Afghanistan, terror didn’t make it to the United States.

We’ll never know the Marine’s name. In fact, the Marine himself will never know how many American lives he saved back home. 

The legacy of the 800,000 American service members who have served in Afghanistan is the relative peace America has enjoyed since the aftermath of the horror of September 11, 2001.

Our military men and women who courageously serve in the Middle East are fighting evil over there so that we don’t have to fight them here. They are deserving of our gratitude and appreciation for now and evermore.  

We honor the memories and service of those who gave their lives in Afghanistan and extend our sincerest thanks to those who have served there these last twenty years. If we lived another one-thousand years we could never adequately express our appreciation.

Photo from Shutterstock.