Park City Afghanistan war veteran, a suicide attack survivor, hopes Biden withdrawal is ‘for the right reasons’
Adam Kelley says the sacrifices of American soldiers should not be lost with end of the conflict
Adam Kelley in 2010 was deployed to Afghanistan with the Utah Army National Guard and was on a mission to clear explosives from a route used by the U.S. military in the Khost province of the country.
He was driving a heavily armored military vehicle that day. There was traffic, but nothing seemed unusual to the 2004 Park City High School graduate who grew up in Park Meadows and is a member of the well-known Santy family.
Then, suddenly, another vehicle veered into the one Kelley was driving. The driver of the other vehicle, traveling at perhaps 10 mph, was a suicide bomber. The man looked at Kelley and then triggered an explosive vest. The vest was designed to cause the detonation of 250 pounds of explosives packed into the man’s vehicle, a small Toyota. The vest killed the man, who appeared to be in his 20s, but failed to trigger the larger explosion.
Kelley’s vehicle suffered a peppering of shrapnel. Nobody inside the vehicle was injured.
“My adrenaline definitely kicked in. The training took over,” Kelley said in an interview on Thursday, the day after President Biden announced the last American troops in Afghanistan will be withdrawn by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks later this year.
Kelley, who is now 35, spent parts of 2010 and 2011 in Afghanistan, after having served in Iraq in 2007 and 2008. He received a Purple Heart for an injury sustained in Iraq. He spent his days in Afghanistan — at a base in a mountainous area 40 miles from the border with Pakistan — with a team searching for and disposing of roadside bombs and other improvised explosive devices. Lamp cords and copper wire were telltale signs of explosives since insurgents used them as part of the triggering mechanism, he once said. Kelley once described the insurgents as becoming “more gutsy on attacking us” and “crafty” in their tactics. Everyday Afghan people by then had become more hesitant in offering assistance to the Americans out of fear of the Taliban loyalists, he said at the time.
Kelley was honorably discharged from the military in 2017 and now lives in Spanish Fork. He said on Thursday he hoped the decision announced by the president is based on the conditions in Afghanistan rather than any political motivations. He said he would like that the decision was influenced by the military “boots on the ground” in Afghanistan and that it was “for the right reasons.”
Kelley, as examples, said the withdrawal of the American forces should be based on factors like the Afghan government being “fully equipped to combat the Taliban” that has continued a years-long insurgency and the rooting out of corruption in the government in Afghanistan. Kelley is also concerned with the president setting a date for the withdrawal, explaining the enemies in Afghanistan can now wait for the American forces to leave before they relaunch their operations.
If the move is for political reasons, Kelley said, he worries about the “sacrifice of the men and women who have gone over there.” The efforts could be “all for nothing” under that scenario, he said.
Kelley recalled one of his platoon sergeants who was killed in Afghanistan as he considered the president’s announcement this week. Kelley said he hopes the American mission is complete by Sept. 11.
“His sacrifice was for nothing if we’re not done yet,” Kelley said.
It is not known how many members of the military from Park City or surrounding Summit County were deployed to Afghanistan over the nearly 20 years since the start of American operations there after the Sept. 11 attacks. Much of the attention in the community moved to the Iraq war that followed, spurring an anti-war movement and leading to the deployment of other people with Park City-area ties.
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Park City officials on Tuesday are scheduled to reconfigure a key stretch of road in Old Town. The alteration involves the section of Park Avenue between the 9th Street and Deer Valley Drive intersections.