As the clock ticks down on President Biden’s self-imposed Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw from Afghanistan, Wharton County veterans are left wondering what’s next.

In the latest development out of Afghanistan, at least 12 U.S. soldiers and 170 civilians were killed in the Kabul airport on Thursday. Confirmation of the attack has already taken place by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

“Terrorists took their lives at the very moment these troops were trying to save the lives of others. ... But we will not be dissuaded from the task at hand,” Austin said.

Vietnam veteran and retired SGT Major Leonard Sternadel served more than 20 years in the army and says he has seen this failure of leadership before.

“This is disastrous, and the whole thing is going backward like in Vietnam,” Sternadel said. “The government now gives out too much information to our enemies on what we are going to do.”

U.S. officials gave the Taliban a list of names and the immigration status of Americans and afghans attempting to enter the Kabul airport for evacuation.

El Campo resident Wade Clark deployed to Fallujah for a year and is happy the war is ending but feels the process could have been handled better.

“It doesn’t matter if the war ended in a week or five years from now, the Taliban was eventually going to take over,” he said. “I wish we could have tried to end it without causing a complete disaster. The lack of leadership cannot be overstated.”

Sternadel does not blame the soldiers for following orders and instead believes a lack of government leadership has caused the exit to seem unorganized.

“The president let our troops leave before they got everyone else out,” Sternadel said. “That is a slap in the face to every Afghan and American who supported them over the last 20 years.”

President Biden is sticking with his withdrawal plan after extending a May 31 deadline from the previous administration.

The U.S. War in Afghanistan began after Al-Qaeda operatives hijacked commercial airliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, killing more than 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001.

The war has ended almost 20 years since troops first came into the country after President Donald Trump signed a peace deal with the Taliban in February 2020. The deal included an end date to what he called one of many “endless wars” in the Middle East.

Ultimately, Clark thinks soldiers did all they could for the region and they did not lose the war.

“It was up to the Afghans to take responsibility for this country because they were not abandoned on a whim and had plenty of time to prepare for our departure,” Clark said. “The failure of the country and their surrender to the Taliban is on them. The failure to get our people out and us looking like idiots is on us.”

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