April 15, 2021

People enlisting in the military today may not have been born when America entered Afghanistan two decades ago in a war that President Joe Biden says will end soon.

The patriotic motivations to avenge the 9/11 attack on America were reminiscent of my mother and father’s decision to enlist after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

We owe it to our veterans and to the families who lost 2,300 loved ones in Afghanistan to remember the price of a two-decade war.

20,660 Americans have been wounded. 823,136 Americans have served in that war. A decade ago, more than 100,000 American soldiers were based there. Add to that the more than 11,000 American civilians who were in Afghanistan as contractors. By some estimates, more contract workers than soldiers died in Afghanistan, but the Pentagon does not track or report those figures.

At least 100,000 Afghan civilians have died in this war.

America has spent more than $2 trillion on this war.

Numbers and calendars are not a full reflection of misery and loss. But they help to contextualize the war.

For armchair generals, this war has taught us, again, not to rush into battle without an exit strategy. The Washington Post reminds us:

The Taliban is resurgent, the Afghan government continues to fight rampant corruption, and violence erupts regularly.

The U.S. marked a year without a combat death on Feb. 8 — but the Taliban has promised to resume attacking U.S. and NATO troops if they’re not gone by May 1, an exit deadline previously negotiated by the Trump administration.

It’s a good time to remind ourselves of the true cost of war. Section 60, in Arlington, is sometimes called the “saddest acre in America.” Your local veterans’ cemeteries have also been watered by decades of tears.


We may also find that this final withdrawal from Afghanistan sparks dark memories. Talk with crisis line workers and always provide support information inside your reporting. Every time.

Remembering journalists killed in Afghanistan

The United Nations reports that, since 2018, more than 30 media workers and journalists have been killed in Afghanistan. From September 2020 to January 2021, at least six journalists and media workers were killed in such attacks. Rolling Stone recently reported that the pace of journalists being murdered has increased:

Over the past year, 12 media workers were killed across Afghanistan — a more than 150 percent increase over the previous year. The pace of killings has accelerated since intra-Afghan peace talks began in September, and in the wake of a February 2020 cease-fire agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban that critics say encouraged the militants to operate with more impunity toward media and civil society. “The U.S. paved the road for these killings,” says one Afghan journalist in hiding, who asked not to be identified. “They abandoned us.”

“The Taliban and other groups are targeting women journalists because they believe they should still be inside the home, not on the frontline fighting for progress and human rights,” says Farida Nekzad, an award-winning editor and the director of the Center for Protection of Afghan Women Journalists. “Unfortunately, these killings have been especially effective against women.”

Spend a few moments reading their names, seeing their faces, honoring their work.

They died documenting a war that dragged on, but that we became too distracted to mention, even after many of us promised to “never forget.”

This article originally appeared in Covering COVID-19, a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
More by Al Tompkins

More News

Back to News