Lymington Afghanistan veteran Andrew Turley hits out at US withdrawal as 'kick in the teeth' that will affect colleagues
A LYMINGTON veteran of the war in Afghanistan has described how the withdrawal of troops from the country feels like “a kick in the teeth”.
Former Staff Sgt Andrew Turley told the A&T he and other ex-service people had been upset by the developments, adding: “It leaves you wondering if it was worth it and whether we did enough to equip the Afghan security forces.
“Did people, colleagues, die in vain? It’s been heart-wrenching to watch.”
He spoke out after chaotic scenes unfolded as the Taliban swept back into power, with panic-stricken crowds clinging to planes at Kabul airport in an attempt to flee.
Andrew told the A&T he fears for veterans’ mental health and said many will have to turn to groups, such as the Lymington Armed Forces and Veterans Breakfast Club, for support.
“It’s all been a bit of a kick in the teeth, to be honest,” he said. “We felt as though we had accomplished something; girls could go to school and life was fairly normal.
“It’s almost like you’ve given someone a life for 20 years but all of a sudden it has gone.”
The move was defended by President Joe Biden who said the US could not keep fighting there “indefinitely”.
And in the House of Commons on Wednesday, New Forest West MP Sir Desmond Swayne questioned Afghans’ resolve against the Taliban, referring to people “queueing at the airport” instead of resisting.
Andrew served as a combat medic in Afghanistan from March to October 2012 as part of Operation Herrick and was stationed in the Lashkargah district.
He has since left the military due to mental health issues he suffered because of his wartime experiences.
“I loved the country, it was absolutely beautiful,” he said. “I am a huge history buff and some of the bases that the guys were using were from the time Rudyard Kipling had been there, and the ancient city was stunning. In another time it would have made for a beautiful tourist attraction.”
Parts of Lashkargah, such as the inner city, were modern but beyond that some areas harkened back to “Biblical times”, he said, with villagers living in huts and sleeping on straw beds.
“It was a real clash of cultures; from ultra-modern to almost medieval,” he revealed.
He said the situation for troops could be delicate as although most locals were happy with their presence, matters were complicated by directives from their superiors.
They allowed them to help natives who had been shot but not with more generalised medical emergencies as they wanted to encourage locals to be more independent.
As well as performing his medic role, Andrew helped build bridges, roads and pharmacies and said patrols “made life as comfortable as possible” and helped “get girls to school”.
He added: “That’s my biggest fear now; the effect this will have on girls and women, and it going back to women only being allowed out in public when they are chaperoned or having to be fully covered.
“I shuddered when I saw the windows of a wedding shop being painted over and hidden.
“I also hope to God that some of the interpreters and people I knew from my time there have got out of the country. We owe it to them, no questions asked, to help them.”
As for the Taliban, the only time he came “face to face” was when he was tasked with tending to a wounded fighter in Camp Bastion.
“They were very good at hiding or disappearing. They would fire a shot but could then pose as a worker in a field,” he said.
“We used to call them the 10-dollar Taliban; most of the fighters were not Afghans, they were from Pakistan and Iran and they were paid $10 per day and given a gun. They’d fight for the summer and then go home, a lot of them.”
He was not surprised the country had fallen so quickly. In 2012 the British forces were aware the Taliban was nearby and remained established.
What had shocked him, however, was the lack of opposition from Afghanistan security forces, who had been trained to UK and US officer standards at camps, including a specially created one in Afghanistan dubbed “Sandhurst-in-the-Sand”.
He said: “All those training over 20 years, we’ve given them weapons, equipment and armoured vehicles and for all of that to collapse so quickly is quite shocking really.
“Do we lay the blame with those guys for not putting up more of a fight, or us for not trying hard enough?”
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