It was 11 years ago this month that Marine bomb technician Joey Jones, who grew up in Dalton, Ga., took a breather from hunting for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in a small market in Safar, Afghanistan.
The breather over, he readjusted his gear on his back, took one step away from a wall where he'd been standing and landed on an IED. The blast ripped away his legs from above his knees, mangled one arm and critically injured a colleague, who later died.
With the Aug. 31 final withdrawal of U.S. personnel from Afghanistan next week, Jones, now a Fox Nation host and Fox News contributor, will be forced to associate the same month of his devastating injury with the botched, ignominious end of the U.S. mission in the country.
Much ink has been spilled on this page by national columnists on the mistakes the Biden administration has made of the circumstances surrounding the end of the mission, the shame of leaving loyal Afghans and U.S. materiel behind, and the seeming nonchalance about what a Taliban-run country portends, so we won't repeat their words.
But Jones and other service personnel had their lives changed in the country, believed they were on a mission important to the U.S. and wanted it to count for something.
Now Jones said he is "incredibly frustrated and disheartened" about what has transpired and believes the Biden administration chose a political and not a strategic end to the mission.
And the end, the Southeast Whitfield High School graduate said, has been particularly complicated because "at the very least the commander in chief and his Cabinet did not have correct intel. They did not see this [the overrunning of the country by the Taliban] coming." And if they did not have access to the best-case scenario, he said, it's a lack of leadership of the structure in place to make the right decisions.
Jones said he has yet to talk to a single veteran of the Afghanistan war who "doesn't think [the harrowing wind-down] has been an embarrassment and disservice to their sacrifice," and that Biden is the cause.
"But I'll keep looking for one," he said.
On Twitter recently, Jones said the Taliban broke his body, "and the United States government, with lies and a smile, broke my heart."
While he was referring to the frenzied withdrawal, he said he later came to understand how in 2010 he was just "cannon fodder thrown at something." Then-President Barack Obama had sent in 40,000 troops that year "to push the Taliban back so he could claim victory" ahead of his 2012 re-election.
As far as the original Afghanistan mission — to defeat the Taliban, which had harbored 9/11 al-Qaeda criminals — Jones said the U.S. actually did it twice, in 2001 and in 2009-2012. And he said because of the U.S. mission there, "for the past 20 years, we've had relative peace" from foreign terrorist groups. Plus, he said, "our eyes are open." An attack at home from such a group will "never be such a surprise."
Yet, he — and other veterans of the mission, he said — understood that many people wanted to wind down the war. Former President Donald Trump, he said, gave "diplomatic legitimacy" to the Taliban and stood for them having a voice in the country's government in the hopes they would not try to overthrow the nation or otherwise terrorize it.
However, "it became increasingly clear that was not actionable — that they could not be folded into the government," Jones said. "And they were not accepted by much of the Afghanistan people, either." But the way the Trump administration — which he criticized — wanted to end the mission and the way the Biden administration decided to end it are two different things.
The Trump administration used a number of "if this, then that" scenarios and put in place a number of contingencies. And, he said, "I think he would not have been reluctant to throw some bombs" to be sure Americans got out safely.
"Biden's personality is much different," Jones said. In his mind, he said, any aggression means the continuation of the war. In the end, Biden chose "a short-term political gain over long-term strategic security."
If it had been up to him, he said he would have left a small force of troops in the country. In any kind of mission, he said, "you do dangerous things, and there are risks involved." But with virtually no U.S. troop casualties in the last two years, "relative to other places, it was no more deadly."
And it might have kept the Taliban from taking over the country.
Jones said being in the political punditry has allowed him to "help influence or educate" and offer "real-time thoughts on leadership." With more than three years left of Biden's term, "I hope Americans won't forget about this.
"I fought in 2010," he said, "and I didn't get to forget about it. I hope we hold him accountable."
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