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How Does Proposed U.S.-Taliban Peace Deal Look To An Army Veteran?

NOEL KING, HOST:

The United States is on the verge of a peace deal with the Taliban. If it's signed this weekend and if it holds, American troops will gradually leave Afghanistan after more than 18 years of conflict. We wanted to see how this looks to a veteran of America's longest war. I first talked to Kristen Rouse back in 2009. That was after her first tour in Afghanistan. She'd go on to serve two more tours. Since then, she's become an advocate for veterans. We connected yesterday. And first, she told me what surprised her the most about the Afghan troops she fought alongside.

KRISTEN ROUSE: The welcome that I received was just amazing. You know, there were definitely differences in how I was treated because I was a woman, but it was really interesting because these gentlemen would - they would share things with me about their families that they wouldn't share with men.

KING: Like what?

ROUSE: I remember, you know, like, some of the gentlemen would show me a photo, like, on their phone of their wife, and - you know, and some of them on occasion would say, my wife wishes you hello, says hello to you.

KING: Really?

ROUSE: And then I would be able to ask them and talk with them about their wives, about their daughters.

KING: Did you ever ask the Afghans that you worked with and befriended, like, what do you want for your country?

ROUSE: I think we talked about that from a family perspective.

KING: Tell me about that.

ROUSE: You know, I remember talking with an officer who - you know, a leader who had served in the Northern Alliance, the militia that the U.S. initially partnered with in 2001. That was the soldiers that were on horseback; you know, they were with the Northern Alliance. You know, and he told me terrible stories of, like, you know, 15 days of continuous fighting, and he described to me that he never even took his boots off once...

KING: Jeez.

ROUSE: ...Because they were always engaged in this horrific fighting. And - you know, but telling me that the one good thing that happened was that his family stayed safe because so many didn't. But he told me that even where his family lived at the time, you know, he was putting his daughters in school, as well as his sons. He insisted that his daughters go to school as well as his sons because he believed in their future. That answers the question of, what are you fighting for?

KING: Yeah.

ROUSE: What was he doing it for? That was clear to me when he told me about his family.

KING: You spent a lot of time with people who had spent much of their lives fighting or in a state of war.

ROUSE: Yeah.

KING: We're now on the verge of a peace deal between the United States and the Taliban. When you think of that peace deal going into effect, what goes through your head?

ROUSE: I'm rooting for the Afghans. I want the people who I have interacted with in any way, I'm wishing for them to have a better deal for them, to have a better shot at life. You know, I wish for all of the children who are going to school to be able to realize their dreams in the same way that I was able to.

You know, when I was working with the Afghan military, our mission was to work shoulder to shoulder, shona ba shona, with our Afghan partners in support of, you know, strengthening and sustaining the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and do what it needs to do for the people, for the populous that it's accountable to. And so my concern with the negotiations that have happened is that the negotiations with the Taliban have not yet involved the Afghan government. Why have the negotiations not been shoulder to shoulder?

KING: I want to ask you about an argument that some American lawmakers make, that President Trump makes and that many of us as American citizens make when we sort of talk to each other as we go about our daily business. And the argument is that, you know, the United States has served as the world's police force for too long, and we need to get out of Afghanistan because we don't belong there after 19 years and also because it is time for the Afghan people to take control of their own destiny. What do you think about that argument?

ROUSE: To be involved in a bloody conflict for 19 years is - it should stun us. We should be shocked daily and aware daily that Americans are going halfway across the planet and risking their lives, in many cases losing their lives, losing limbs, experiencing injuries that affect them their entire lives. I went three times, and I feel like I lucked out.

KING: Really?

ROUSE: Yeah. I feel like I didn't spend that much time. I mean, there's troops who've been lost in combat within the last year who've had 10 deployments. We're asking the same troops, the same families to sacrifice over and over and over again, and for that to barely reach daily political consciousness, daily media consciousness, it's still stunning to me.

KING: Do you feel like the 31 months that you spent in Afghanistan served a purpose?

ROUSE: You know, it's - I've - you know, part of the story that I've told myself, that I have conversations with other - you know, with other veterans, with other families is that, you know, I believe that all good faith efforts in the world amount to something. You know, the Afghan officer who I told you about who fought with the Northern Alliance, who told me about putting his family through school and putting his daughters in school, he's not alive anymore.

KING: What happened?

ROUSE: I don't know. But I know he's not alive anymore. I know he was at great risk. And it's heartbreaking. It breaks your heart over and over and over again.

KING: How do you grieve for someone like that man who you knew for a time, you knew deeply for a time, you admired, respected, worked with? You know he's passed, but you don't know why. How do you grieve for him?

ROUSE: I can tell his story.

KING: Yeah.

ROUSE: You know, there's Afghans every day who choose hope, and so I choose hope along with them.

KING: Kristen Rouse, U.S. Army veteran, thank you so much for being with us.

ROUSE: Thank you, Noel.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOHN FAHEY'S "SUNFLOWER RIVER BLUES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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