Boston-area veterans watched with despair Sunday as the Afghan government fell rapidly into the hands of the Taliban, leaving some to question if their efforts and sacrifice will have a lasting impact on the country they were sent to help rebuild.
The Taliban’s takeover marked the end of nearly two decades of US involvement in Afghanistan, where more than 2,400 service members died and nearly 21,000 have been wounded.
“A lot of Americans gave their lives and didn’t ask questions about it,” said Dan Magoon, who enlisted in the Army in 2003 and served on deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq. “We came under attack [on 9/11] and people didn’t care what the politics were. Men and women raised their hands and volunteered.”
Magoon, who lives in Dorchester and is executive director of Massachusetts Fallen Heroes, said the developments in Afghanistan have left veterans wrestling with emotions of anger and frustration while reflecting on their time in the country.
“You felt like you were making a difference for people who didn’t have infrastructure and didn’t have freedom,” he said. “Those are the questions weighing on [veterans]: What did they do, how much did they do, and what were the effects?”
The Taliban’s advance through Afghanistan was swift as it toppled cities and bases once secured by US forces. It took barely more than a week for the insurgents to effectively seize control of the entire country. The Afghan president, Ashraf Ghani, fled Sunday as the Taliban closed in on the capital.
The government’s collapse was disheartening for veterans, many of whom worked for years overseas trying to equip and train the Afghan military to defend itself once American forces pulled out.
“I never expected the Afghan army to just lay down their weapons and the president to step aside and hand over his country,” said Marc Silvestri, an Army veteran from Revere who was wounded in Afghanistan while on deployment in 2009.
“I was all for this withdrawal and felt that it was time to get our men and women out of the country, but I never would have expected the brazenness and speed of the Taliban,” he said. “It’s like they’ve been plotting this and had a master plan for the minute we pulled out.”
US Representative Seth Moulton, a Salem Democrat who served in Iraq as a US Marine, tried to provide solace to veterans and their families in a statement released Sunday.
“To our Afghanistan veterans and their families, I am too honest to stand here today and try to convince you that your sacrifice was worth it,” Moulton said in the statement.
“Some will find solace in the millions of Afghans, especially women and girls, to whom we gave two decades of a taste of freedom — more hope, liberty, and opportunity than they would have ever had without the tireless work and irreparable sacrifices of our troops. We accomplished our initial mission: Osama Bin Laden is dead and the threat of terrorist attacks against Americans originating from Afghanistan is diminished. We also provided the security needed to accomplish a peace process that, unfortunately, was never realized.”
US Representative Jake Auchincloss, a Newton Democrat and former Marine Corps captain who commanded infantry in Helmand Province in 2012, said the Biden administration was right to withdraw American troops.
“What I’m looking at is the two decades worth of incompetence and downright lies that emanated from a series of national security establishments who knew in situation room after situation room that we could not win in Afghanistan, and yet asked for more time, more troops, and more treasure,” Auchincloss told WCVB-TV on Sunday. “This president finally had the integrity to say, ‘No more.’ ”
The news of Kabul’s fall also struck the families of fallen service members who died while on deployment to the Middle East.
Jay Farrar, a Marine veteran from Weymouth, lost his brother, Sergeant Andrew Farrar, who died on his 31st birthday in 2005 while serving in Iraq. Jay Farrar, who also works with Mass Fallen Heroes, said more than 300 service members from Massachusetts have died overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“It puts into perspective why our mission there needs to continue,” he said of the US involvement in Afghanistan. “We sent our nation’s finest there to fight for 20 years to liberate a country only to have it reversed in 30 days. It’s disheartening to anyone who has served. ... This country [the US] is supposed to be the gold standard, and right now we’ve got some serious egg on our face.”
Veterans who spoke to the Globe on Sunday said they are now most concerned with the evacuation of their Afghan allies, such as interpreters and contractors, as well as their families.
“We made a promise to the men and women helping us in our mission,” Silvestri said. “Not ensuring they all get out safely is a huge disappointment. It’s the one thing we could be proud of: making sure they are brought here or somewhere where they can live a life and be safe and not worry about dying.”
As the US sends additional troops to help in the evacuation, Silvestri said he is also concerned for those service members and what they could face with the Taliban back in power.
“There’s going to be, I assume, some heavy fighting between our troops and a large and emboldened Taliban,” he said.
A candlelight vigil for fallen service members is scheduled for Monday night at 7:15 p.m. at the Massachusetts Fallen Heroes Memorial in the Seaport.