Former Army Rangers Matthew Griffin and Donald Lee served as part of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, deployed to Afghanistan multiple times in the years immediately after the September 11 attacks.
“When we started the war in Afghanistan, we were highly successful on the ground politically, socially and economically,” said Griffin.
But it’s now been 16 years, three presidents and multiple strategy changes that have included surges, withdrawals and now more U.S. troops on the way to a region where the insurgents and the Taliban have made gains.
“Sending more troops is a retread of the same policy,” said Griffin. “Not doing any long term sustainable nation building is a retread of the last policy, and with the change from the time based to condition based approach, it's good, but it doesn't provide any clarity to the U.S. taxpayer, congress or the American people.”
“I realized that my oldest son is three years away from fighting the same war that I fought,” said Lee. “That's kinda nuts.”
President Donald Trump’s announcement on Monday night lacked specific numbers but emphasized that strategy would be driven by conditions on the ground, without a clear timeline.
The President also put Pakistan on notice, and called for further developing America’s partnership with India.
While he said U.S. support would not be “blank check,” the President said his administration’s strategy would include the integration of diplomatic, economic and military tools.
“The strongest weapon we can use to positively change that nation from all American citizens and service members is our economy,” said Griffin. “If we just simply help them be competitive on a global market, it would help out significantly on a very human level.”
Griffin and Lee have experience in the region not only as service members but also as business people, returning to Afghanistan after they left the Army.
“When you're there without a gun on the table, your interaction is very different,” said Griffin.
The veterans turned an old defense factor in Kabul into a new venture called Combat Flip Flops. What started as manufacturing flip flops has now expanded to textiles, clothing and hope for Afghan families, women and children.
“Every piece we make, it actually funds a day of education for an Afghan woman,” said Lee.
Griffin says, so far, they’ve funded education for 400 Afghan girls since the company started.
The former Army Rangers believe education and economic development should be key components to long-term stability in the region. They’re now working to promote a policy that they hope turns into a bigger focus for the region.
“I think schools and infrastructure would be a big win,” said Lee. “Build the schools, build the hospitals. Educate the population. Educate the women, educate the children.
Lee says that’s how he would define progress in a place where there isn’t a simple solution.
“You can’t expect to gift wrap democracy and expect it to work,” said Griffin.
While the future of Afghanistan remains unclear, the two veterans who now consider themselves “unarmed forces” say they hope for peace.
“Everyone just wants the bombs to stop on both sides; everyone just wants it to stop,” said Griffin.