I never fought al-Qaeda. None of us did, really. It was 2011, a decade into an indecisive war, and few even pretended this fight was about bin Laden, the Twin Towers, or a smoking Pentagon. No, we chased the Taliban — or at least a motley collection of nationalists, bored teenagers, heroin dealers, and religious farmers calling themselves "Taliban" — around southern Afghanistan for a year or so.
Back then, in the bad old days, the US had 100,000 troops on the ground. No matter: It's not as though we were winning. So we came back to Fort Riley, Kansas — well, not all of us — and carried on with our lives, pretending Afghanistan had never happened.
That was five years ago, when the Obama administration was in the midst of its own doomed approach to "winning" in Afghanistan. It was clear from the start that despite his campaign rhetoric labeling Afghanistan the "good" war, President Obama had his doubts about escalation — and his heart was never really in it. Nonetheless, he lets his generals and hawkish cabinet members cajole him into a massive troop surge, so my gang and I were sent off to fight. We tilted at windmills for a bit, and, despite having tons of troops in the country, left the place no better than we'd found it.