‘It’s been like my heart gets ripped out’: Local veteran leaders react to Afghanistan pullout

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Nick Stefanovic with Monroe County Veteran Services completed multiple tours to Afghanistan when he was in the Marine Corps. He says the past few nights have been tough to watch. 

“It’s been like my heart gets ripped out,” Stefanovic said.

He says around 2005, the US military was able to quell much of the chaos. Now, it seems like it’s all returned as the Taliban has taken full control once again. 

“We stopped the public executions, we stopped the enslavement of women, we allowed girls to go to school again,” Stefanovic said.

According to Stefanovic, during his time in service, U.S. troops were able to usher in the first democratic elections in decades. Any future elections are now up in the air. 

“Those people lived free after we liberated them,” Stefanovic said.

When it comes to Afghan forces falling so easily to the Taliban, Stefanovic says it came down to one word: fear. “The Afghan people fought knowing that they had our support.” Take that support away, and confidence cripples. 

Joe Chenelly is the AMVETS National Executive Director. He served in Afghanistan during 2001. He believes as messy as this withdrawal looks, it was probably time to go. 

“I have a deep concern for those who are still there, certainly Americans who are still in Afghanistan,” Chenelly said.

Also, those Afghans who helped Americans for so many years. Chenelly and AMVETS — focused on those veterans now home from the almost two-decade-long war. 

“It’s been a very rough time for them. I’ll be blunt: I had tears hitting my keyboard yesterday morning,” Chenelly said.

Chenelly says the sacrifices made over there, are not forgotten. AMVETS has been actively trying to bring Afghanistan veterans together, with mental health and checking in as the top priority.

“Those who are in crisis, those who are just having a difficult time through this we want to let them know they’re not alone,” Chenelly said.

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