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Canada is belatedly doing right by our Afghan allies — but why did it take this long?

Click to play video: 'Ottawa offers “path of protection” to Afghan interpreters who helped Canadian troops' Ottawa offers “path of protection” to Afghan interpreters who helped Canadian troops
WATCH: (July 23, 2021) The federal government announced a new program that will offer a path to protect and resettle Afghan interpreters who worked alongside Canadian troops. As Mike Armstrong reports, Canadian veterans have been calling for action for years, and say the work is far from over. – Jul 23, 2021

The phrase “moral obligation” gets thrown around a lot, but it’s hard to think of a more apt manifestation of its meaning than the case of the Afghan interpreters who are in grave peril as a result of their assistance to Canadian troops.

In other words, they were there for us and it is our turn to step up and be there for them.

It’s unfortunate that this point wasn’t obvious to the federal government much sooner, but they are belatedly doing the right thing. It’s not too late to save these folks.

It is a tragic commentary on the situation in Afghanistan that this matter now has such urgency. After so much money spent and blood spilled to keep the Taliban at bay, the Taliban is now asserting control over much of Afghanistan. They are very interested in taking revenge on those they view to be “traitors” and “apostates.”

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Read more: Canada has ‘moral obligation’ to protect Afghan interpreters from Taliban resurgence: experts

Perhaps it does represent a collective failure that our Afghan allies are no longer safe in their own country. There will be plenty of time for lamenting and dissecting all of that, but right now the focus needs to be on saving their lives.

After weeks of pressure on Ottawa, the feds finally relented last week and announced plans for a new “path to protection” for Afghans who worked closely with Canadian troops — that would include interpreters, obviously, but also those who worked as advisers, security guards, cooks, cleaners and drivers. Between those individuals and their families, it could be thousands who are eligible.

That, however, represents some considerable logistical challenges when it comes to identifying, locating and evacuating people. Given that American troops are to withdraw at the end of August, time is certainly of the essence here.

There is understandably a need for some secrecy around these plans, given the security issues involved. Still, though, the government was rather scant on details. Canadians deserve to know more about how this is all going to work and what the likelihood of success is.

The approach up until recently was to simply allow Afghan civilians to apply to immigrate to Canada, but that was clearly insufficient given our debt to these individuals. There have also been various grassroots efforts involving veterans’ groups to help Afghans flee the country or at least get to a safer situation within Afghanistan.

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Ultimately, though, this is something that demands government leadership.

Read more: Canada offers ‘path to protection’ for Afghan interpreters amid ‘critical’ situation

Beyond the moral obligation we have to help save the lives of our Afghan allies, it is in Canada’s self-interest to demonstrate our willingness to support those who have supported us. Canadian soldiers who are deployed overseas are going to have to depend on locals who can act as interpreters or in other roles.

If we were to stand by and sacrifice our Afghan colleagues to the Taliban, that would send a message around the world about the perils of helping Canada.

This will be a challenging effort, but it is one we have to do. The circumstances that necessitate this have been obvious for some time, and it’s frustrating that we’ve wasted so many weeks. That said, this announcement, while overdue, is good news.

While a different outcome in Afghanistan would have been preferred, we should welcome these new Canadians with open arms. It’s the least we can do.

Rob Breakenridge is host of “Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge” on Global News Radio 770 Calgary and a commentator for Global News.

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