The Worst Day in Afghanistan

There are two decades of days to choose from, yet no one is held responsible for them.

The Kabul airport suicide bombing was the largest single-day loss of life for Americans in the Afghan War since 2011. It was a terrible day, but raises the question: What was the worst day of the Afghan war?

At first, it is hard not to consider the August 26 attack the worst day, with 13 Americans and at least 169 Afghans dead. How old were the Americans? How many hadn’t even gotten out of diapers when the war started 20 years ago? Did any have parents who also served in Afghanistan? Who were the Afghans? All the dead were so close to safety, after who knows what journey to that moment together—a hundred yards across the tarmac and into an airplane out. Good people only die at the last minute in bad movies, and sometimes real life.

But was it the worst day? Shall we count the dead? The worst day for American casualties was August 6, 2011, when a CH-47 Chinook helicopter was shot down over eastern Afghanistan. Thirty Americans, including 22 SEALs, died that day.

There were a lot of other worst days. On June 28, 2005, 19 Special Operations troops were killed during Operation Red Wings. Three service members died in an ambush, and 16 others lost their lives when their helicopter went down in an effort to help them.

On July 13, 2008, nine Americans were killed and 27 others were wounded in an attack on an American observation post in the Battle of Wanat.

On October 3, 2009, eight Americans and four Afghans were killed at Combat Outpost Keating when 200 Taliban fighters attacked the base in eastern Afghanistan.

On December 30, 2009, a Jordanian double-agent lured seven CIA operatives to their deaths in a suicide attack at Forward Operating Base Chapman.

On September 21, 2010, a Black Hawk helicopter went down in Qalat, killing five soldiers of the 101st Airborne, three Navy SEALs, and one support technician.

On April 27, 2011, eight U.S. airmen and one contractor were killed at the Kabul airport. A U.S.-trained ally Afghan Air Corps pilot had become angry during an argument and began shooting.

The worst day might have been one out of the other hundreds of green-on-blue killings, incidents when an Afghan soldier purposely killed an American ally, the worst kind of proof that we had lost, and that we refused to believe that reality until belief was forced upon us.

Or maybe the worst day, symbolically, was February 8, 2020, when two American soldiers were killed fighting in eastern Afghanistan, the last “combat” deaths. In between those deaths and the deaths by the suicide bomber at Kabul airport, five other Americans died in “non-hostiles,” suicides and accidents. Those were bad days, too.

The worst day might have been the death of Pat Tillman, the NFL star and American poster boy who ceremoniously joined the Army post-9/11 only to die in a volley of friendly fire and Pentagon lies. Or maybe it was after a Taliban IED tore apart State Department officer Anne Smedinghoff while on a propaganda mission. Would either have been proud to give their lives those ways, knowing what we know now?

Maybe the worst day was when some soldier back home, thinking his war was over, realized he had been conned, it was all a lie, that he never fought to defend America or help the Afghans, and neither did his buddy who died among the poppies outside a village without a name. Maybe it was when he realized his dad had told him the same thing about Vietnam. Or maybe it was when he heard President Biden, mentally stuck in 2006, claim those killed at the Kabul airport were actually “lives given in the service of liberty.”

Or the worst day might be tonight, when some American veteran tells his wife after a couple too many he is going out to clean his gun in the garage. An average of 20 vets take their own lives every day. On August 16, the day after Kabul fell, the Veterans Administration Crisis Line saw a 12 percent increase in calls.

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