Parents of fallen Marine hope Taliban peace deal prevents more deaths

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch
Gold star father Fletcher Slutman Jr. is hoping his son, Staff Sgt. Christopher K.A. Slutman,  is one of the last names to be engraved in the Veteran's Memorial Gold Star Healing and Peace Garden granite Wall of Honor, with a new peace deal with the Taliban. Staff Sgt. Slutman was killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan in 2019,
Wednesday, March 4, 2020.
John A. Pavoncello photo

Fletcher Slutman Jr. said he knew there would be bad news when he opened his front door one night last April and saw two U.S. Marine Corps members standing in uniform outside.

Slutman and his wife, Mary, who live in Lower Windsor Township, had two sons in the Marines.

"I walked to the room, I said, 'Mary, there are a couple Marines that want to talk to us,'" Slutman said. "First thing she said was, 'Which one is it?'"

That was the night Fletcher and Mary learned their son, Staff Sgt. Christopher K.A. Slutman, had been killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan.

A peace deal signed Saturday between the U.S. and the Taliban aims to bring America's longest-running war to an end. But the agreement faces substantial hurdles as the U.S.-backed Afghan government has balked at the terms, especially the release of Taliban prisoners. 

After more than 18 years of war, Fletcher Slutman said he hopes the agreement means other families will be spared the loss of their loved ones who are serving in the military in Afghanistan.

It will be good if "no other parent has to live through what we went through," he said.

Nearly 1,900 American troops have been killed in action in Afghanistan since 2001, according to the Department of Defense, including York County natives Marine Sgt. Michael W. Heede Jr., Air Force Tech Sgt. Daniel Zerbe and Army Cpl. Matthew Hanes.

Marine Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines, 31, a Dallastown Area High School graduate, was killed in the same April 2019 attack that killed Christopher Slutman.

The war has cost the U.S. more than $975 billion, Forbes reported in September. And researchers at Brown University estimate that more than 43,000 Afghan civilians have been killed throughout the conflict.

The peace agreement, signed in Doha, Qatar, paves the way for the U.S. to pull all troops from Afghanistan within 14 months, beginning with an initial reduction to 8,600 troops and the removal of all U.S. forces, and those of coalition allies, from five military bases in the country.

There are roughly 13,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan now, Politico has reported.

In exchange, the Taliban must prevent any of its own members or members of terrorist groups such as al-Qaida from using Afghanistan to plan or carry out attacks against the United States.

The agreement also promises that the Afghan government will release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for the Taliban's release of up to 1,000 prisoners.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani rejected that part of the deal,The Associated Press reported, potentially threatening the entire peace initiative.

A prisoner exchange can be negotiated but can't be required as a precondition by the U.S., Ghani said Sunday, according to the AP.

Fletcher Slutman talks about his son, Marine SSgt Christopher Slutman who was killed in action April 8, 2019.
Thursday, May 23, 2019.
John A. Pavoncello photo

More:Services set for two fallen Marines with York County ties

More:York County Gold Star families prep for Memorial Day, reflect on fallen children

Republicans in Congress held their tongues immediately after the deal was signed. But criticism started to surface Tuesday.

"What we have seen with this agreement now concerns me as much as the Iranian nuclear deal did, now that I have seen the documents and now that there seems to be still no verification mechanism by which we are going to enforce any of the so-called Taliban promises," said Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., during a meeting of the House Armed Services Committee.

Locally, York County's congressmen said Tuesday they were cautiously optimistic about the Trump administration's attempt at winding down the protracted conflict.

"I applaud President (Donald) Trump for reaching an agreement with the Taliban, and am hopeful this is a step in the right direction to legitimate and long-lasting peace in Afghanistan," U.S. Rep Scott Perry, R-Carroll Township, said Tuesday in a statement.

But Reps. Perry and Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster, also warned that the Taliban must be held accountable for the peace plan to be successful. Smucker said he was skeptical of the Taliban's ability to maintain good-faith negotiations based on the outcome of past negotiations with the Islamic sectarian group.

"Any final agreements must not compromise the United States’ national security and must include strong accountability and oversight measures tied to US troop withdrawal," Smucker said Tuesday in a statement. "Ultimately, it is the Afghani people that must chart their own political future and this agreement enables them to do so."

The Taliban must begin negotiations with the Afghan government March 10, per the agreement.

For military families such as the Slutmans, the peace deal is deeply personal. 

Mary and Fletcher Slutman have other children and family members in the Marine Corps, Army, Navy and Coast Guard.

One of their sons, Peter Slutman, has served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria as a Marine, his father said, and has suffered injuries on four occasions from detonation of improvised explosive devices.

"They have him going to Duke University now for treatment because the military hasn’t been able to treat him," Fletcher Slutman said.

Peter Slutman will retire in May while still dealing with serious back injuries, his father said.

More:Two Marines with York County ties killed in Afghanistan

More:OP-ED: ‘Peace deal’ with Taliban dicey without continued U.S. troops in Afghanistan