I never went to war while I was in the army. I was stationed in Korea during the first Gulf war. I cannot say with absolute certainty how the active duty and veterans who served in Afghanistan feel; I believe that I do have an idea about those feelings.
The war in Afghanistan has cost the United States 20 years, $2.5 trillion, the deaths of around 2,400 military personnel, and the wounding of an additional 20,000 or so military personnel. I know there are figures available that count how many Afghans have been killed and injured, but I am sure they are gross underestimates.
Once President Biden initiated the withdrawal it took the Taliban about a week and a half to return to power.
The critics have called the withdrawal a military defeat and a failure that rivals Vietnam. I am not sure how much of that statement is hyperbole; it looks pretty bad. There is some truth to that critique, but not as a failure of the sitting President. Despite what the critics claim, trump could not have done a better job withdrawing from Afghanistan. From what I can tell, he and Mike Pompeo played a large part in why this withdrawal is going so badly.
In hindsight, whatever we could have accomplished in Afghanistan was accomplished by December 2001. Whatever was done between January 2002 and the present seems to have been swept away in a matter of weeks. When Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011, he was found in Pakistan, which goes a long way toward explaining why everything that happened from 2002 onward is falling apart now.
The troops are not being directly blamed for this failure. Neither is the lack of a coherent foreign policy or military strategy over four presidential administrations being blamed. However, after all the blood, sweat, and tears put into this mission by those military personnel who had to do the actual fighting, being told that what they did was a failure implicates them in that failure. It means that what they did, the lives lost, the pain and horrors they suffered were all for naught.
Here is what I do know. American military personnel went into Afghanistan and did, for better or worse, what they were trained to do. The lack of political will has not involved the will to fight or win the war; what was lacking was a clear mission and the will to acknowledge that we were fighting a pointless war. The failure was one of leadership.
All of this amounts to a moral injury. Moral injury is a failure of the institutions to uphold the promises made to the individuals who support and depend on those institutions. In the end, when the political and military establishment decided to withdraw, they abandoned not just Afghanistan, but those who fought and died and who left their innocence and humanity in that land for what they were told was a greater good.