On the anniversary of the formal end of the war in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin acknowledged many Americans still have questions about what the two decade conflict accomplished.

In a letter to the force Tuesday, Austin thanked veterans of the war and the Gold Star families of more than 2,400 troops killed in Afghanistan. He also called for continued counterterrorism efforts around the world and signaled support for ongoing conversations about the aftermath.

“As our country looks back on two decades of combat in Afghanistan, I understand that many people have hard questions about the costs of the war and what their sacrifices meant,” he wrote. “These are important discussions, and I hope we will keep having them with thoughtfulness and respect.”

The anniversary of the withdrawal punctuates solemn remembrances of the last troops killed in action in Afghanistan: 11 Marines, one sailor and one soldier during the Aug. 26, 2021, attack on Hamid Karzai International Airport’s Abbey Gate.

“I know that today’s tragic milestone is agonizing for the families and loved ones of those we lost at Abbey Gate,” said in a message Friday. “I also know that this is an extremely difficult time for all of us who mourn the 2,461 U.S. military personnel who lost their lives in our nation’s longest war, and for all of us who served in Afghanistan and continue to bear the wounds of war.”

Looking ahead, Austin pointed to the August CIA strike on Kabul that took out Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaida.

“We also know that preventing terrorist violence requires much more than military might. We’re committed to supporting a whole-of-government effort to address the root causes of violent extremism,” he wrote. “No one should doubt America’s resolve to keep our people safe.”

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.

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