A decade after returning from Afghanistan, Marc Silvestri was convinced it was time for his comrades to come home too. But watching the chaotic withdrawal unfolding in real time has stunned the army veteran.
“It’s been a rough few days,” the 43-year-old chief of veterans’ service in Revere, Massachusetts, told AFP.
“I was for the withdrawal, I thought it was time. Over twenty years, billions of dollars spent, I never expected the speed and brutality of the Taliban to be what it is,” he said.
“I never expected that the training and the money we put into the Afghan military that they would just lay down their weapons and surrender the country. That was shocking to me.”
For US veterans of the 20-year war, the lightning-fast takeover by the Taliban has caused several shocks, anger, resignation and worry, both to their Afghan allies left behind and to compatriots reeling home from the catastrophic end of the US campaign.
In just days, the Afghan army and government fell apart. On Sunday, Kabul fell without a fight as the Taliban invaded the city and President Ashraf Ghani fled the country.
The news sparked desperation as Afghans gathered at the airport in an attempt to escape and foreign governments scrambled to evacuate personnel.
For veteran Chad Fross, the withdrawal of US troops would “always be a mess” no matter who was in charge, because they did not fully understand Afghanistan.
“A lot of people will ask, ‘Why? It was pointless for me to be there. To watch friends die, lose body parts or lose their minds,'” Fross said.
“But at the same time, I have to wonder how much more pointless it would be to stay on track if it were the same result 20 years from now.”
The plight of women is a sore point of the Taliban takeover for Fross and others.
During their brutal 1996-2001 regime, Islamist militants severely curtailed women’s freedom, kept them behind closed doors and banned education.
But the 2001 US invasion was designed to change that — and, especially in urban areas, for many women it did.
However, all those hard-won gains will be eroded with the return of the Taliban to power.
“These kinds of ideals that we thought were going to secure them there, these are the things that I think bother a lot of people,” Fross said. “It bothers me too.”
Democratic President Joe Biden stands by his decision to go ahead with the withdrawal, even as he acknowledged the scenes were “shattering”.
He also promised that “thousands” of US civilians and Afghans who had worked with US troops and feared reprisals from the Taliban would be evacuated.
It is the promise that is perhaps the most critically viewed in the United States. For many veterans, the idea of leaving behind Afghans who worked side-by-side with them to fight against the Taliban’s “very real” fear of revenge is unreasonable.
“They’ve helped us and we’re letting them down. I just think that’s wrong,” Fross said, echoing the sentiments of other veterans AFP spoke to.
America’s impartial Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, committed to post-9/11 veterans, in a statement on Monday called on U.S. authorities to “waste no extra time” by bringing Afghans who worked with Americans to the United States.
“We must keep our promises to those who have sacrificed so much for us,” Tom Porter, IAVA’s Executive VP for Government Affairs, said in the statement.
All for nothing?
“I hear so much anger,” Porter told AFP, adding that it wasn’t because of the withdrawal, but because of the “random and chaotic way we’re taking them out now.”
He pointed to the infamous images of the United States’ departure from Saigon, which have since colored America’s legacy in Vietnam and are now circulating again as social media users draw parallels with the departure from Afghanistan.
Silvestri said a veteran of the Vietnam conflict reached out to him as the collapse unfolded, saying, “I never thought I’d see it again… it takes me back to when I saw Saigon fall.”
The Massachusetts resident said he has spoken to a number of vets and their families who are now wondering if their sacrifices were worth it.
“I think the best thing we can do right now is listen,” he told AFP, echoing the many messages from organizations over the past few days with reminders of support services available to veterans.
He wants families to know that “their children did not die for a lost cause.”
“When it comes to fighting for us… some of them weren’t able to get home and that allowed us to.”
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NewsMadura staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)