By Melissa Moore-Randall
As the world watches the turmoil unfold in Afghanistan, Revere’s Director of the Veterans Service Office and candidate for the Revere City Council, Marc Silvestri, reflected on the drama in the troubled Middle Eastern country. Silvestri, a Bronze Star of Value and Purple Heart recipient, served in Afghanistan in the early 2000s with the U.S. Army. As one of many who helped the people of Afghanistan rebuild and take back control of their country, Silvestri was shocked by the swift actions of the Taliban and the collapse of the country.
“I watched the events unfolding in Afghanistan last week, and I was completely shocked by the speed and brazenness of the Taliban. Who would have imagined that the Taliban would have seized control of the entire country in 10 days. When the takeover began, with a few provincial capitals, I wasn’t really surprised. However my fear and concern really started to grow when the Taliban took over other large cities like Kandahar and Herat without a fight. But the real shock came when the Taliban took Kabul with little to no resistance and President Ghani fled the country.”
Silvestri, while shocked and disappointed over the takeover of Afghanistan where U.S. troops have been stationed for almost 20 years, was happy there was limited civilian violence. “I would have hoped the Afghan people, especially the U.S. trained and equipped Afghan military would have put up a fight. But at the same time, I understand why they didn’t. Let’s not forget that Afghanistan has been fighting and unstable long before we got there in 2001.”
The most troubling to Silvestri is the heartbreak the Gold Star families must be enduring while this unfolds. “My heart broke for the Gold Star families of the nearly 2,500 men and women that lost their lives in Afghanistan. And I started thinking about the other Operation Enduring Freedom veterans. Were they also overwhelmed by a flood of emotions because we all left a little piece of our souls there, and wondered if this was all for naught?”
Much of Silvestri’s disappointment relates to the progress made by troops throughout their 20 years in the country. “In June 2008, I deployed to a remote outpost in Nuristian, which is a mountainous north east province close to the Pakistani border. Our mission was to disrupt the flow of Taliban, al-Qaeda, and foreign fighters supply and smuggling routes from Pakistan’s tribal areas. Three months after we left, all of the outposts in Nuristan were abruptly closed after COP Keating, which was a few miles away, was overrun by the Taliban in October 2009.That was really emotional for us, we knew time and luck were the only real thing on our sides over there. Unfortunately, I never saw any real firsthand progress in terms of democracy or nation building, but I believe my efforts in some way helped support it.”
Silvestri fully supported President’s Biden’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops. However he voiced disappointment over the actions of the Department of Defense and State Department in helping those trying to flee the country. “I fully support President Biden’s decision to leave Afghanistan, but I wish that the Department of Defense and State Department had a plan in place to get all of the SIV immigrants and their families out of the country. Despite their claims of amnesty for the Afghans that worked for the US, I am especially fearful for the translators and interpreters who worked directly with the U.S. military. We owe it to our Afghan allies to uphold the promise the U.S. made to them. I am also concerned about the loss of progress that has been made in regards to women’s human rights. Sadly, I don’t believe either of these claims.”
Marc has been an advocate for translators since returning from Afghanistan. In June 2020, Silvestri welcomed his former translator, Sibghatullah “Sabib” Nooristani to the United States. After returning from his tour in Afghanistan, Silvestri made it his mission to get Nooristani to the United States. The former U.S. Army interpreter spent years trying to get an immigrant visa to come to the United States. Eventually the State Department agreed.
“After Sabib’s story was on the news last year, I had several other interpreters and translators reaching out to me. Unfortunately, there wasn’t really much I could do.I didn’t keep touch with any other translators other than Sabib. However, a few of his extended family members and fellow villagers were also translators and he said they were in hiding.”
Silvestri added, “Again I agree with the President’s decision to withdraw all troops, and stand behind his decision. After 20 years and $88 billion put into the Afghan forces, they proved that no amount of time, money, or American lives would have made them ready or willing to withstand the Taliban. When the president first announced our withdrawal date as 9/1/21 I thought the date was great because of sentimental value. Although, I do believe that we should have planned the withdrawal for the winter months when fighting decreases and the weather makes it harder for anyone including the Taliban to get around.”
At a press briefing on Sunday President Biden claimed 11,000 people had been airlifted safely from Kabul while acknowledging he is unaware of how many Americans still remain in the country.