The Canadian government failed its Afghan allies

ABOVE: A surge of people rush the Kabul airport as the Canadian government waited until the last minute to help, despite early warnings. (SOURCE: CBC.CA)

By Mike Lalonde

When Canadian special forces first entered Afghanistan in late 2001, we and our allies had very little intelligence on the region, its people, the culture, or the languages. Canadians had to rely on local assistance to build an initial intelligence picture and to plan operations. In those early days of clearing out Al-Qaeda terrorists from mountain strongholds where they took refuge, local support from Afghans saved Canadian lives.

The relationship between the Canadian Armed Forces and local Afghans continued to build over the years. It reached a pinnacle with Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin’s decision to deploy thousands of Canadian troops in a combat role to the birthplace of the Taliban – Kandahar, in 2005. At the time Kandahar was considered the most dangerous place in Afghanistan and one of the most dangerous places on earth.

Upon our arrival to Kandahar we immediately started to build up the Kandahar Air Field (KAF) and used it as our operational headquarters. Many Afghans risked their lives by taking employment to help build the KAF, serve as interpreters, educate our intelligence staff, and fill other roles vital to the success of our operations. They also made introductions to key stakeholders and facilitated our relationship building efforts with a myriad of tribal leaders.

All of these activities by local Afghans helped save Canadian lives, while putting targets on their own backs. Many brave Afghans lost their lives in targeted assassinations by Taliban murderers.

They knew the risks, but they chose to help us anyway because they believed in Canada, and because they believed in our joint effort to build a better Afghanistan for everyone. Unfortunately, the events of the past few weeks suggest that their faith in Canada may have been misplaced.

Although nobody in the allied intelligence community anticipated the Afghan government would collapse immediately following the American departure, every allied intelligence agency agreed that Afghanistan would fall to the Taliban and do so quickly. These reports were made available to government leaders including our own Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as early as May 2021.

Despite the early warnings Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government took no action, waited until the last possible minute, and was left scrambling to offer token evacuation services to our Afghan brethren that is too little and too late. Trudeau himself stated that it would now be impossible to evacuate the more than 6000 Afghan allies that remain trapped in Afghanistan because the Taliban are blocking access to the airport.

What does this say to our soldiers and veterans who made connections with the Afghans who served with us and risked their lives for us. God knows our military is already suffering a serious morale crisis due to lack of action our government took on sexual misconduct in the military. Was this really the time to dither on yet another crisis of our own making?

National leaders absolutely cannot afford to wait until the last minute to act when lives are at stake. That’s not leadership. In addition to forfeiting the lives of the thousands of Afghans that helped Canada, Trudeau’s delays have gravely damaged Canada’s national interests.

Should the need arise for Canada to once again send its troops into harms way anytime soon, how likely is it that the local population will trust us? How willing will they be to risk their lives based on false promises from a country that has proven that political expediency trumps their lives? When we fail to protect our allies or honour our commitments, we catastrophically erode our reputation. Such an erosion would undermine the efforts of our diplomats and military placing the success of any new mission at risk and ultimately will cost more Canadian lives.

If Canada wants to be seen as a serious nation on the world stage it needs to start acting like it. We can no longer afford to take a laissez-faire attitude towards our international and military affairs. The world has changed dramatically in the past 10 years. The United States under both Donald Trump and Joe Biden have proven that they are no longer interested in playing a leadership role. Now more than ever, we must dispense of our culture of complacency on matters outside our borders and take these issues more seriously.

If Canada doesn’t step up, who will?

Mike Lalonde is former intelligence officer in the Canadian Armed Forces, former federal Conservative candidate, and has a Masters degree in Canadian history.