Sonny Argumaniz, of Valencia, served in Afghanistan for 420 days — and the U.S. Marine Corps veteran said it’s been tough to watch the news coming out of that country in recent weeks, as U.S. troops were withdrawn, the Taliban swiftly took control and refugees mobbed the airport in Kabul seeking evacuation.
That crowd of Afghans and U.S. service members were targeted Thursday by bombing attacks — believed to be the work of ISIS-K, a rival of the Taliban — that killed at least 13 U.S. service members and dozens of Afghans.
Argumaniz was part of the 2010 invasion of Marjah, villages in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. He told The Signal he helped build the military base in Marjah “from the ground up.”
“I literally saw a video like two weeks ago and the Taliban (are) walking through there – through that exact base that we set up,” he said. “It’s interesting to see. It’s very sad. It’s very frustrating, you know, disappointing in many ways.”
While he thinks the withdrawal of an American military presence in Afghanistan could’ve been better managed, he said some of what’s happening was inevitable.
“I don’t feel like, ‘Oh, well what was the point?’ or this or that. We still have our heads held high and we’re still confident that we did our job and this is just failure on leadership – people who wear suits and ties, not the boots on the ground,” said Argumaniz, now a doctoral student in physical therapy at the University of Southern California.
He said he’s heard similar sentiments from the people who he served alongside in Afghanistan. On social media, Argumaniz has seen his fellow veterans expressing that they have done their jobs.
Sage Rafferty, a U.S. Army veteran, was responsible for carrying out maintenance and logistics for most of the helicopters in Afghanistan while he served there in 2013 as a support operations deputy. The Saugus resident said watching the Taliban take control of the country has been devastating, but not shocking to him and his friends in the military and fellow veterans.
“I don’t think anybody is shocked that the Afghan National Army folded as quickly as it did,” he said.
Despite the absence of shock, Rafferty said there’s a definite sense of sadness.
“I think most people are still sorting out their feelings about that, you know,” he said. “The problem with war is that it leaves scars.”
Rafferty, a disabled veteran, said he knows soldiers who died in Afghanistan and veterans who committed suicide.
“Some people have a lot of anger and some people are kind of resigned to the fact that this is happening,” he said, “There’s a lot of concern about getting our Afghan allies out.”
During this challenging time, Rafferty has turned his attention to dispelling information shared by people, he said, who are “coming out as self-proclaimed experts on Afghanistan…(who) don’t have any idea what they’re talking about.”
Rafferty said he’s concerned about the small weapons and equipment that’s fallen into Taliban hands.
“They’ll probably be able to maintain and keep (the small arms) for many years to come,” he said, noting equipment like night vision goggles. “There’s still some resistance in Afghanistan against the Taliban and they’re going to have to be facing a Taliban with night vision goggles and U.S. firearms, which is unfortunate.”
He’s less concerned, he said, about the Taliban taking ownership of U.S. Humvee vehicles and aircraft.
“They take a lot of specialty parts. They take skilled aircraft mechanics and wheeled vehicle mechanics to maintain. They have to be maintained on a certain schedule. They have to be able to procure parts, which is going to be almost impossible for the Taliban,” Rafferty said.
Despite any silver lining, Rafferty said there’s no easy way to bring the situation to an end.
“There’s no clean way of withdrawing from a country that you’ve occupied for 20 years,” he said. “I think the military, where they are right now, and the State Department is doing the best that they can with what they have.”
Veterans who need support can access resources through the Santa Clarita Veteran Service Collaborative. They can be reached at 661-753-3559 or scv-vets.org. Resources are also available through the Los Angeles County Department of Military & Veterans Affairs, which can be reached at (877) 4LA-VETS, 213-765-9680, or 213-765-9681. For the Veterans Crisis Line, call 800-273-8255 then press 1. The Women Veterans Hotline can be reached at 855-829-6636, 877-WAR-VETS, or 877-927-8387. The Veterans Peer Access Network can be reached by calling 800-854-7771 then pressing *3 or by visiting dmh.lacounty.gov/veterans.