SOUTHEASTERN N.C. (WECT) – Reaction continues to pour in around the world after Afghanistan falls to Taliban forces following the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
The Taliban’s stunningly swift Afghan takeover has left U.S. Veterans and service members, including right here in Southeastern North Carolina, in shock after dedicating two decades of boots on the ground in the country.
“I didn’t think it was going to be this quick, so I’m in quite a bit of shock,” said Eric Terashima, a retired U.S. Marine who lives in Leland.
The images coming out of Afghanistan are difficult to see and deeply personal for people like Terashima. He lived and worked alongside the Afghan people while serving there on three military deployments, for a total of more than two years.
“We got pretty close. The Afghans would share their food and their tea with us and we were in there all day every day. We laughed together, we cried together,” Terashima said.
Kevin Maurer reported from Afghanistan for The Fayetteville Observer, spending weeks at a time with troops on the ground as early as 2004. He grew to deeply love the people there as well.
“This is a country of resiliency. It’s a country that I think, you know, deserves better than what its gotten in history,” Maurer said. “But yet when you meet the people there they’re warm, they’re inviting, the hospitality is great and it breaks my heart that, you know, I don’t think Americans will be looked at the same after what’s happened today and then over the weekend.”
Maurer said that it was not entirely breaking news that President Joe Biden ultimately decided to pull out all U.S. troops from the country. Presidents of both political parties talked about taking similar action in years past. The way in which the troops were removed, however, could have been better, according to Maurer.
“I think the way that they left and I think that the speed that the Taliban was able to take Kabul and take over the country I think is devastating,” he said.
Terashima was upset by the U.S. troops withdrawal. He was first deployed to the country in 2010 and knew early on that they would need to be there for quite some time to make lasting change. When people asked him how long he thought they needed to be there, he would tell them that the minimum buy in would be 20 years.
“Probably more like 40 or 50 because you have to have generational change in the culture to really make a difference. We didn‘t stay there long enough to really make that happen,” Terashima said.
Terashima returned from his most recent deployment in February of 2020. He has managed to help several of the interpreters he worked with immigrate to the United States and secure refugee visas, but he is in contact with many people who are still in Afghanistan.
“I’m still in contact with a lot of folks who are still there and the messages of desperation that I get from these folks is — it hurts,” he said.
Maurer has also received messages of desperation.
“I’ve got friends texting me about, you know, losing their houses to the Taliban and I have Veteran friends of mine who’ve sacrificed, you know, a lot every time they went over there,” he said.
North Carolina, especially, has a special connection to the country because of how often soldiers and marines from the state deployed there .
“Afghanistan is a special place for me. I think it’s a special place for a lot of Veterans particularly the Veterans of North Carolina both Lejeune and Fort Bragg,” he said. “It’s got real deep roots, I think, to North Carolina just because of how often soldiers that I covered at Fort Bragg deployed to Afghanistan.”
Maurer and Terashima both said that they feel helpless as they watch the collapse of Kabul from afar.
“After putting in over two years of my life — sweat equity, working with the Afghans — I feel like we’re abandoning my friends and family, frankly, that’s how close I feel to some of these guys,” Terashima said. “It’s really painful to try and go through this and watch it all happen and knowing there’s almost nothing I can do sitting here in the United States.”
They both hope the U.S. government works to save the allies still on the ground.
“I just hope America doesn’t turn their back and forget about the Afghans,” Maurer said. “Do what we can to help those interpreters and the Afghans that sacrificed their life to help the Americans while they were on the ground.”
Terashima said he hopes that the Biden administration takes advantage of the Governor of Guam’s offer to open the island up to allies. The U.S. territory served a similar purpose after the Vietnam War.
“There’s probably tens of thousands of people who want to leave and don’t have the ability to do so and we should be able to help them,” he said.
Copyright 2021 WECT. All rights reserved.