‘Hold your head high’: Joint Chiefs issue message for Afghanistan war vets as calls for ‘accountability’ rise

The Joint Chiefs of Staff had a message for veterans of the war in Afghanistan: “Hold your head high.”

The message was part of a letter posted on the Facebook page of the Joint Chiefs, and signed by Army General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Air Force Chief Master Sergeant Ramón Colón-López.

In the letter, it is stated to veterans of the 20-year War on Terror “you can hold your head high” for service which is credited in the letter with helping to prevent terrorist attacks on the U.S. homeland.

The letter notes that terrorism is how the entire War on Terror began, noting “that horrible, dark September day in our Nation’s history, 2,977 innocent lives lost.”

The letter goes on to address the cost and sacrifice paid by veterans of Afghanistan, and the personal impact of that cost:

“…and [veterans of the war], sacrificed more than anyone – know this came with a heavy, irreplaceable cost.  In Afghanistan, 2,461 Americans lost their lives.  20,691 were wounded in action and many others suffered – and continue to suffer – the unseen wounds of war.  To each of you, your service mattered.  This is personal to us, and we know it is personal to every one of you.”


The letter also somewhat addressed the highly controversial pullout from Afghanistan. Many have said the withdrawal was either unnecessary or badly botched or both. Issues such as abandoning Americans in Kabul or knowingly exposing Americans to terrorist attacks continue to dog the Biden administration. The letter doesn’t try to explain or defend either, but simply congratulates the military on the logistics of the evacuation while noting that some service members were killed:

“18 days ago we were given the mission to evacuate Americans, third-country nationals, and Afghans from a war torn country and we executed that mission across nine countries and 26 intermediate staging bases and temporary safe havens. 11 Marines, a Soldier, and a Navy Corpsman paid the ultimate price to save over 124,000 people and give them an opportunity to live in freedom.”


At the end of the letter, it states that “we could not be more honored to serve alongside each and every one of you.”

Whether the feeling is mutual is hard to tell, but the Joint Chiefs have come under plenty of criticism in recent weeks for how the Pentagon has handled the situation, and in particular its honesty with the public. Facebook commenters on the letter itself didn’t seem to be buying it.

“Accountability! Can you honestly say you’ve done your best informing leaders of what has been going on the past decade…”  “…If not, you should resign your commissions for being ineffective leaders and should fade away with your retirement benefits. If so, you’ve been staff officers far too long and have nothing but ‘yes men/women’ under your command and should resign your commissions. Our troops deserve better. America deserves better,” wrote Vasilenko Karina RigoDaniel.

“Instead of worrying about diversity and inclusion, you should be worrying about the Americans YOU left behind,” D.j. Henderson commented.

The Joint Chiefs and particularly General Milley are themselves the target of scrutiny for their role in the debacle, and almost 90 retired senior flag officers have issued a joint call for Milley and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to resign.

Whether or not anyone resigns, it’s unlikely that a single letter will undo all the controversy and bitter feelings surrounding the sudden withdrawal.


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