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Ending the war in Afghanistan

U.S. soldiers walk to get in to a

U.S. soldiers walk to get in to a military plane as they leave Afghanistan at a base in Bagram on July 14, 2011. Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS/Musadeq Sadeq

America’s longest war finally has an end date: President Joe Biden promised this week that all U.S. troops and NATO allies will be out of Afghanistan before the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11.

It was a war in response to the terrorist attacks on that terrible day, a war America launched in Afghanistan though none of 9/11’s hijackers were from that country. It was a war whose moral center involved preventing a stronghold for terrorism but also capturing Osama bin Laden, who was found and killed in another country, Pakistan — in 2011.

It has been 20 long years and many deployments since the beginning of the war. The conflict evokes mixed emotions. But there are two truths we know for sure:

The fortune spent. America has spent hundreds of billions of dollars on the Afghanistan fight. This is an extraordinary amount of money no matter how it is explained or divvied up, but one calculation is particularly striking: If that money had been simply given as a check to Afghanistan’s people, each Afghan could have received at least $20,000, with money left over to save.

What price would it take to convince opponents to lay down arms? What could that money have done for Afghans in their home? Would that have better helped them built a modern nation? What bridges could have been built and students taught in our own country?

If history is any guide, in some future generation, Americans will visit a country that was once a battlefield and has finally become a stable land. Those visitors will marvel at all their forebears and hosts spent in prior years.

The human toll. No dollar figure can be placed on the human toll in lives, limbs and psyches, or on the blood that has been shed in Afghanistan — the deaths of allies, foes, more than 2,000 American forces, and thousands of civilians.

That toll is well known on Long Island, for the Marines and Army sergeants and Army Rangers and all the others who died, including Medal of Honor winner and Navy Lt. Michael Murphy, of Patchogue, who died in 2005 fighting through an enemy ambush in the Afghan mountains. Thousands of young men and women from Nassau and Suffolk counties served. A Newsday review 10 years into the war reported that at least 3,800 U.S. troops from Long Island had served in Afghanistan since 2005 alone.

Long Island has been closely tied to all sides of this difficult endeavor. Long Islanders responded to and died in the attacks on the Twin Towers, mourned and signed up for duty in the ensuing months. Less than 1% of Americans serve in the armed forces, meaning that few directly bore the brunt of the war, but they did so again and again.

It is their commitment and experiences and nobilities and tragedies we remember now, as this historic chapter comes close to an end.

— The editorial board