1,100 Minnesotans deployed in Afghanistan for Operation Allies Refuge


The Minnesota National Guard Task Force 1-194 – the 1st Battalion, 194th Armored Regiment – was already stationed in the Middle East when it was diverted around August 12 to help secure evacuations at the international airport Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan. As of March, 1,100 troops associated with Task Force 1-194 had deployed to Iraq and Kuwait for a nine-month mission as part of “Operation Spartan Shield”. The unit includes battalions from Camp Ripley, St. Cloud, Sauk Center, and Brainerd, among other locations statewide.

In a written statement, officials from the Minnesota National Guard said soldiers are now supporting “Operation Allies Refuge” in Kabul, which also provides humanitarian assistance to U.S. citizens, special immigrant visa holders and their families. The unit posts information online at facebook.com/194Armor.

Deployed Minnesota National Guard

During a Pentagon press conference on August 18, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States, announced that over the preceding six days, National Guard troops from the Minnesota had been deployed to Afghanistan alongside two battalions of US Marines to assist on the ground. Milley said about 20 US military units comprising 4,500 troops were on hand to assist with the evacuation of the airport.

Some 16,000 people were reportedly evacuated from Kabul, the country’s capital, on Monday alone.

Among those deployed this month to ensure their safe passage was State Senator Zach Duckworth, R-Lakeville, who is a major in the Minnesota Army National Guard.

Duckworth, who enlisted at 17, served in Kuwait and Iraq from 2011-2012 as a platoon leader. His wife is due to give birth to their third child in November.

“It is an honor to serve our state in times of need and I am proud to wear the uniform when our country calls,” said Duckworth, in a written statement released by the Republican Senate caucus of Minnesota on Aug. 20.

“They took everyone out”

After three and a half years in Afghanistan, Stars and Stripes journalist JP Lawrence fled the capital Kabul on August 15, 2021, with the help of the US Embassy there.  His colleague Phillip Walter Wellman took this photo of him preparing to leave the day before.  (Courtesy of JP Lawrence)

After three and a half years in Afghanistan, Stars and Stripes journalist JP Lawrence fled the capital Kabul on August 15, 2021, with the help of the US Embassy there. His colleague Phillip Walter Wellman took this photo of him preparing to leave the day before. (Courtesy of JP Lawrence)

In mid-August, as news broke that major cities in Afghanistan were falling into Taliban hands, Stars and Stripes reporter JP Lawrence rushed to the US Embassy in Kabul, where he is. quickly became clear that he would have hours, not days, to pack his bags. his business.

“They took everyone out,” said Lawrence, 31, a former Minnesota National Guard sergeant who grew up outside of Redwood Falls, Minnesota.

His thoughts now turn to the Afghan colleagues, friends and acquaintances left behind.

“I just tried to figure out how to get some people I know out of there,” said Lawrence, who stays in an apartment near the European military publication office in Germany. “I feel like I should breathe to get out of there, but I don’t really feel like I can breathe right now.”

Lawrence fled Kabul on August 15 and has already seen evidence of the Taliban’s tightening grip on culture and public identity. “It’s certainly not what anyone in the United States wanted,” he said. “This is not what the Westernized Afghans wanted. I was just talking to someone whose art gallery was ransacked. Maybe they can (reopen) someday when the country is cool with art.

Radiologic technician Linwood Ellsworth of St. Paul served in Afghanistan from 2006 to 2007. It was not always a pleasant experience, and watching on television the progressive takeover by the Taliban of the country he had been sent to. to protect did not brighten his outlook. .

“This war left me with memories that I will never forget,” Ellsworth said in an email. “Billions of dollars wasted. The way we left Afghanistan made us look weak on the world stage. Despite our technology and superior weaponry, we were defeated by the farmers. But… war is racketeering.

Four presidents, one withdrawal

For some of those soldiers who served in Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, to return home to a nation that had largely lost track and moved on, the landlocked South Asian country of 38 million people is one of America’s most visible military failures.

Jim Doten, a graduate geologist, nevertheless remains proud of the work he did a decade ago in trying to stimulate the village economy in some of the poorest corners of rural Afghanistan.

As a member of a Minnesota National Guard agribusiness unit, Doten has helped grow grapes, almonds and bees in the heart of mountain valleys almost controlled by the Taliban. The hope was that economic growth would eclipse extremism.

“Although (the United States) has been here for 20 years, it is still building institutions that cross tribal borders,” said Doten, who now works for the Minneapolis Department of Health. “It needs to be nurtured, nurtured and supported. This is my personal opinion.

Biden announced a major US troop withdrawal in April, with the goal of securing a full exit by September. The Taliban took control of major cities, including Kabul, within 11 days.

“We did not go to Afghanistan to build a nation,” Biden said on July 8. “And it is the right and the responsibility of the Afghan people alone to decide their future and how they want to run their country.”

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