This Sunday marks the 17th year we’ve been in Afghanistan, taking the fight to the Taliban and al-Qaida less than a month after the horrific attacks on our nation on Sept. 11, 2001.

And despite the practical defeat of the Taliban, crushing al-Qaida, killing Osama bin Laden and preventing the Islamic State from trying to rebuild their so-called caliphate as they were being kicked out of Iraq and Syria, American troops have been in a constant state of combat in Afghanistan ever since.

Although the combat mission of Operation Enduring Freedom changed to a train, advise and assist mission on Jan. 1, 2015, when Resolute Support went into effect, that has not stopped bad guys from trying to kill our troops at every available opportunity.

In fact, the most recent unit to return from Afghanistan — a 200-strong element of the 504th Military Intelligence Brigade, who returned last week — brought home 30 Combat Action Badges and two Purple Heart Medals.

I would say that we’re still in a combat conflict, regardless of how the mission is spun.

So far, only the Vietnam War comes close to the length of time we’ve been in a constant state of combat, topping out at 13 straight years of conflict. The Korean War may be the longest war, but we haven’t been in combat there since 1953, which kind of counts that one out.

I never actually went to Afghanistan, myself. My deployments were to Iraq and Djibouti, even though the Djibouti deployment was under Operation Enduring Freedom orders. The closest I’ve been is Pakistan, which was an interesting enough duty station, and that was back in the mid-90’s.

However, I do believe that as long as the threat of terrorist organizations using Afghanistan as a base to plot attacks on our soil and within the borders of our nation’s allies, then we need to continue being there. The last thing I want to do is watch another 9/11-style attack on TV — or worse, in person — and know that it may have been prevented if only we’d kept the pressure on the bad guys in the first place.

For this 17th anniversary, we have compiled a special section taking a look at this conflict from the time the first troops stepped foot in Afghanistan to now. It hasn’t always been pretty, and the cost has been extremely high — a cost paid in blood and lives of patriots.

Fort Hood has felt that pain, with some units suffering heavily. The 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division alone has had nearly 30 troops give their lives in Afghanistan over the years.

This year, we will remember all of those who made the ultimate sacrifice to ensure evil men could not plan successful attacks on our nation, and we will remember all of those who have deployed. In my book, they are all heroes.

David A. Bryant is an Army retiree and a military journalist for the Killeen Daily Herald. You can reach him at dbryant@kdhnews.com or 254-501-7554.

dbryant@kdhnews.com | 254-501-7554

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