Taliban blitz in Afghanistan ‘gut-wrenching’ to watch, says retired Canadian commander – National

As the Taliban blitz retaking broad swathes of Afghanistan reaches an alarming new pace, one of the generals who commanded Canadian troops there says what’s unfolding marks a “painful moment” for those who served and who lost loves ones in the conflict.

“It’s gut-wrenching to watch this, given how much blood and toil and effort we’ve all put into this mission,” said retired Maj.-Gen. David Fraser in an interview with Global News.

“We did what we were asked to do. We were buying time. We couldn’t win the war by ourselves. But to see it unravel so quickly after the U.S .pulled out — and not all their troops have pulled out — it’s just astounding, and I think it’s a surprise to everyone.

“But it also is indicative of the resolve of the Taliban leadership versus the lack of resolve by the Afghan leadership to do something about their own country.

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Fraser commanded thousands of NATO troops in southern Afghanistan including in Kandahar, which on Thursday fell to a Taliban assault along with the country’s third-largest city, Herat.

He also led Operation Medusa, a pivotal 2006 offensive campaign that marked the largest Canadian combat operation since the Korean War, and wrote a book about the strategic push.

Fraser says he still remembers each life lost while he was leading the forces — 35 Canadians, 79 members of the broader coalition fighting contingent. When asked what he would say now to the families of those who died serving, as well as to those who sacrificed their lives in the war, he did not hesitate.

“You did what you were asked to do. Politicians sent you, but you gave it your heart and your soul to try to provide hope and opportunity to people who didn’t have it — that we take for granted,” he said.

“It’s unfortunate but it wasn’t your fault that we got to this stage. Politicians of all parties are going to have to look at themselves and accept responsibility for what they did or didn’t do,” he continued.

“I think each and every one of us will ask ourselves the question for years to come: was it worth it?”

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Click to play video: 'U.N. chief calls on Taliban to halt Afghanistan offensive ‘immediately’'

U.N. chief calls on Taliban to halt Afghanistan offensive ‘immediately’

U.N. chief calls on Taliban to halt Afghanistan offensive ‘immediately’

The week-long blitz by the Taliban means the insurgent group now controls 12 of the 34 provincial capitals, and comes after months of escalating concerns about their rapid advance.

Roughly 65 per cent of the country is now estimated to be under Taliban control and the race to evacuate Afghan interpreters and their families has reached a fever pitch, though the fate of many remains unclear as special forces arrive as part of an evacuation of Canadian embassy staff.

As Global News reported on Thursday night, a number of Afghans who worked for Canada and their families are currently inside a Canadian compound hoping to be rescued along with Canadian citizens.

Sources say there are young Afghan children among those taking shelter.

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Taliban controls 65% of Afghanistan as rapid advance continues: E.U. official

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The Canadian government has not yet made a decision on their fate, but multiple sources told Global News they fear the families will be executed by the Taliban.

Sources tell Global News that the embassy is now in the process of “ripping out,” an evacuation process that includes disposing classified items and evacuating staff.

Canadian special operations forces will be deployed to begin evacuating Canadians at its embassy in Kabul, according to the sources.

They have told Global News that Canadian Special Operations units helping to evacuate the embassy includes the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) and Joint Task Force 2 (JTF2), the latter of which specializes as an elite terrorist and hostage rescue unit.

Click to play video: 'Canada opposed to a government installed by force in Afghanistan: Freeland'

Canada opposed to a government installed by force in Afghanistan: Freeland

Canada opposed to a government installed by force in Afghanistan: Freeland

Robin Rickards, a retired corporal in the Canadian Forces, is also part of a grassroots effort to evacuate the Afghan interpreters who put their lives at risk to help Canadian troops. He said the Taliban advance is now reaching a “violent crescendo” and that now is the time for those still on the ground to flee.

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Thousands are now internally displaced, which he told Global News Radio could provide an opportunity for those facing retaliation from the Taliban to hide among the escaping masses of people.

“There’s really no good options at this stage, particularly if the runway in Kabul starts to get damaged,” he said, referencing the country’s capital.

He called the resurgence playing out now “demoralizing.”

In all, 165 Canadians died during the Afghan War, with more than 2,000 Canadian Forces members injured or wounded during service since the first troop deployment in 2002. That followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks by al-Qaeda that killed close to 3,000 people in New York City.

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The Taliban regime supported al-Qaeda and the mountainous expanses of the country provided a refuge for terrorists, prompting the U.S., the United Nations and NATO to push for a military campaign aimed at making sure the country would not be a haven for terrorists like al-Qaeda.

That military campaign also tried broadly to give tools to the fledgling Afghan government formed in the wake of the Taliban defeat the tools and capabilities to build a democratic, stable country without the severe civil restrictions on women and girls that were put in place by the extremist group.

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Nearly $1 trillion has been spent to that aim but 20 years on, the decision by the U.S. to withdraw troops with little apparent transition planning in place has created a massive void that Afghan security forces have so far been either unable or unwilling to fill to keep the Taliban at bay.

U.K. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace was blunt about that decision on Friday, calling the U.S. withdrawal a “mistake” and warning that “the international community will probably pay the consequences.”

The Biden administration said on Friday morning it does not regret winding down the mission.

Jen Psaki, press secretary for the U.S. president, said on Wednesday that it’s up to the Afghan security forces to determine if they want to fight back.

“Ultimately, the Afghan National Security Defense Forces have the equipment, numbers, and training to fight back,” she said during a briefing. “They have what they need.  What they need to determine is if they have the political will to fight back, and if they have the ability to unite as a — as leaders to fight back. And that’s really where it stands at this point.”

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland on Friday said Canada remains opposed to “installing a new government by force.”

With files from Global’s David Lao and Mercedes Stephenson.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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