A former Afghan interpreter who worked with Canadian troops during the war says he’s hearing from some stranded in Kabul and facing the Taliban takeover that they now feel “ashamed” for having helped Canada as they watch officials flee the country.
“They told me, ‘It was better to kill us, not what we had been through yesterday,'” said the interpreter, who uses the name Yaqot professionally.
Global News has verified the identity of the interpreter. He spent several years working alongside Canadian soldiers deployed during the Afghan war and now resides in Germany, but has been working over recent weeks to help others escape the Taliban takeover.
“There was no water. There were no toilets there. There was no food. They had no information … the doors were locked. They were on the outside of the airport perimeter. There were Taliban on the other side,” he said. “They didn’t have any information, and they were panicking.
“They were telling me, we were ashamed that we served the Canadian Forces.”
The Taliban have seized control of Afghanistan in the midst of the U.S. withdrawal. It has seen the country facing intense criticism amid the collapse of the fighting force it spent 20 years and nearly $1 trillion training to hold and defend the country from the extremist insurgent group.
While the withdrawal was widely expected to lead to a Taliban resurgence in many parts of the country, the lightning pace of that blitz left many countries scrambling to evacuate diplomatic staff and burn confidential material held in embassies in the capital of Kabul.
And in that race to escape, it is the Afghans who risked their lives to help the coalition forces — including Canada — who are now at risk of being left behind.
Dire images of thousands packing the tarmac of the Kabul airfield have stunned the world, as have those of desperate Afghans running after some of the final flights departing the runway on Sunday night.
Amid the panic, Western leaders are facing questions over why they did not act sooner and why so many who helped their troops are now left struggling to find a way out of the crumbling country.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is running for re-election as the Liberal Party leader, faced questions from journalists on Monday about what actions are underway now to help Afghans left behind.
Trudeau said 807 Afghans who supported Canadians on the ground have been evacuated so far, and 500 of them have arrived in Canada for resettlement, but did not answer whether he plans to recognize the Taliban regime that has seized control of the country.
He said Canada “firmly condemns” the violence unfolding and is working with allies, including the U.K. and U.S., on planning for what comes next.
He added he has not ruled out using military resources to evacuate Afghans.
“We have military still in Afghanistan right now. We are staging out of Kuwait, including with military aircraft. We are looking at, very closely with our allies, what those next steps would be. And that is certainly something that we are looking at, that we haven’t ruled out,” he said.
Trudeau added there are still Canadian citizens and dual citizens who remain on the ground in Afghanistan, and that the government is working to track them “as much as possible in the chaos.”
U.K. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace was visibly emotional during an interview with British broadcaster LBC News on Monday morning when asked about attempts to get people out.
“It’s a really deep part of regret for me that some people won’t get back,” he said, his voice cracking, before noting that the U.K. and other countries will have to do their best to process as many fleeing people as possible in third countries.
Wallace added: “It’s sad that the West has done what it’s done, and we have to do our very best to get people out and stand by our obligations and 20 years of sacrifice.”
U.S. President Joe Biden doubled down in defence of the withdrawal on Monday, saying he has no regrets in a speech that emphasized he sees no role for American troops in nation-building.
“We gave them every chance to determine their own future. What we could not provide them was the will to fight for that future,” Biden said.
“It is wrong to order American troops to step up when Afghanistan’s own armed forces will not.”
The United Nations Security Council held an emergency meeting on the deteriorating crisis on Monday.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in an address to the members that the dreams of a generation of Afghans, particularly women and girls, now hang in the balance.
“Now is the time to stand as one,” he said, calling on the Taliban to respect human rights and citing “chilling” reports of mounting human rights violations against women and girls.
“It is essential that the hard-won rights of women and girls are protected.”
He also emphasized the risks of allowing Afghanistan to be used as a haven by extremist groups who would seek to threaten and destabilize the rest of the world.
The terrorist group al-Qaeda, responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, was permitted by the Taliban to operate at the time out of Afghanistan, which prompted the start of the war to oust the regime and help build a more stable society.
In more recent years, the terrorist group known as Daesh or ISIS has found refuge in failed or failing states like Syria, Yemen, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, as have al-Qaeda splinter groups.
All have urged followers to attack Western countries, including Canada.
With files from Global’s Mercedes Stephenson.