War in Ukraine overshadows the plight of those who remain left behind in Afghanistan.
I’m writing this on day 154 of the war in Ukraine, or day 154 of Russia’s “Special Military Operation” as Vladimir Putin prefers to call it. That the conflict has gone on this long has been a surprise to many analysts and observers, and has shown not only the incredible resolve of Ukrainians but also how unbelievably inept Russia has been in its execution of this Special Military Operation.
A disaster created by NATO.
When Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine in February it really came as no surprise to many who years ago knew that something like this would eventually happen, and it is because of NATO. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed in 1949 by the United States, Canada, Great Britain, and several other Western European nations, as a counter to the eastern bloc’s Warsaw Pact.
By the early 1990s, a dramatic turn of events would see many eastern European countries abandoning communism and on January 1st, 1992, the Soviet Union no longer existed, being replaced by the Russian Federation. For all intents and purposes, from that point on, NATO no longer had a raison d’etre, or so it would seem.
According to the NATO website:
NATO endured because while the Soviet Union was no more, the Alliance’s two other original if unspoken mandates still held: to deter the rise of militant nationalism and to provide the foundation of collective security that would encourage democratisation and political integration in Europe.https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/declassified_139339.htm
Over time, other European nations would join the organization, and soon the buffer zone between NATO and Russia that was once made up of Eastern Bloc countries began to get smaller. Vladimir Vladimirovich is a former KGB officer and was known to have sentimental feelings about the Soviet Union, so it shouldn’t come as any great surprise to anyone that he would view NATO’s incursion eastwards as a potential threat to Russia. If the Ukrainians were to become a member of the alliance, it would mean that NATO forces could be set up right on the Russian border, with no buffer zone of any kind between them. It isn’t unreasonable or irrational for him to act accordingly in the way that he has.
Fear and loathing in Central Asia.
A little over a year ago, I co-authored a guest essay with Australian veteran Stuart McCarthy that appeared in the July 10th weekend edition of The Globe and Mail titled “Opinion: By abandoning our Afghan interpreters, we’re leaving them for dead.”. Prior to that, we had been campaigning for almost two months to get this issue front and centre in the Australian and Canadian news media.
The issue would eventually begin to make the headlines internationally, however, it would do little to spur any country into taking the actions that they should have taken in the first place, namely employing the use of military force to protect and evacuate those in Afghanistan who were at risk. Instead, a group of the world’s “most powerful” militaries, which was led by the only apparent “superpower” nowadays, had their collective asses handed to them by what is essentially a gang of Central Asian hillbillies. This was definitely not the proudest moment in NATO’s history, and only a few short months later another catastrophe of their making was making news.
Afghanistan veterans answer pleas for help.
Afghanistan veterans from a number of countries began receiving messages from their former colleagues, usually interpreters, who were in grave danger of being the victims of Taliban retribution. Hundreds, if not thousands, of these former soldiers were contacted around the world, several years after their deployments. For many, it would bring back past traumas and reopen once-healed psychic wounds.
One of these is Canadian veteran Brock Blaszczyk, who was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010. He was 21 years old when he lost his leg to an explosion from an IED made out of an old Soviet landmine, spending several months afterwards in rehabilitation.
But it wasn’t until February of 2018 that Blaszczyk would become a hero to many Canadians, though for a different reason. It was during a federal election campaign, and a town hall was being held in Edmonton by Liberal candidate Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Blaszczyk stood and took Trudeau to task over his government’s treatment of veterans and the very controversial $10.5 Million payout to Omar Khadr. A seemingly flustered Trudeau would issue a response he would later go on to regret, with the words “veterans are simply asking for more than the government can afford to give”, words which would come back to haunt him repeatedly in the campaign and in the years after.
Now, unbeknownst to many, Blaszczyk is one of those veterans who was contacted by someone in Afghanistan looking for help. I had heard this through the grapevine, and so I got in touch with him to talk about things. I had wanted to reach out to him before but hadn’t, and now this gave me the opportunity to talk to him. I wanted to know how he was holding up through all that had been happening, but I also wanted to talk with someone else who was able to relate to this in a way that so many other people I knew simply couldn’t.
Brock Blaszczyk is very much a hero in the truest sense of the word, as are many other veterans who answered the call for help from afar. They willingly decided to act, knowing that it would mean having to relive some of the nightmares from their past. They were well aware of the fact that there would be a psychological toll to be paid, and that they could possibly end up with a profoundly broken heart as a result. This in my book is very much the definition of a hero.
For months now, the Taliban have been trying to put on its best face for the world’s media in Kabul, and their efforts so far have at best given them a rather homely visage that even their mothers would have a hard time loving.
The mullahs have been desperately seeking international recognition and in an effort to court the world community at large they have embarked on a campaign aimed at rehabilitating their image somewhat. In Kabul for instance, they have scaled back their searches for those who are on their list of people who helped the “foreign invaders”, and aren’t carrying out extrajudicial executions like they were when they first took charge. These activities are now only taking place out in the rural areas of the country. They also made the unprecedented move of appealing for foreign assistance in the wake of last month’s earthquake that killed over 1,100 people in the southeast of the country.
If history has taught us anything however it’s that the Taliban are not to be trusted under any circumstances, having proven time and again that they are unable to live up to any agreements, and are devious and underhanded when dealing with them. They have also demonstrated an absolute contempt for human life and are more often than not cruel and barbaric in the way they deal with their opponents.
This appears to be the case in the dramatic rise in the number of heroin addicts on Kabul’s streets over the last twelve months. According to what Al tells me, about 90% of those who became heroin addicts in that period of time are former members of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. In “Kabul Trolleyman”, I wrote that what the Taliban have done is to effectively neutralize any potential future threat these men might pose by getting them hooked on junk and keeping them loaded. They have succeeded in eliminating a potentially existential threat to themselves without having to fire a shot, leaving their victims as nothing more than a tragic backdrop for foreign cameras to shoot.
With the knowledge that he has obtained in recent days, Al really begins to worry about what kind of future his children will have if he isn’t able to get them out of Afghanistan. One wonders what future any of the children have under the malevolent tyranny of the mullahs and their henchmen.
Let there be none left behind.
If there is one thing that a government bureaucracy does not feel it is loyalty. Loyalty is the reason why many people have tried to help these poor wretched souls in Afghanistan, and it is why they would do it again if they had to. It is a loyalty that was forged in the furnace of combat and was quenched in trust, the trust that is formed when two people rely on each other in order to protect their lives and the lives of their brothers and sisters in arms.
It is this ethos that is at the very heart of the belief that nobody gets left behind, and it is what drives so many veterans to act in this instance. I myself have not formed that level of trust with anyone in Afghanistan, I just happen to think that it’s the right thing to do. I made a promise to Al and a number of other people, that I would make sure the world knew about them and that I would tell their stories. A number of other people made promises to the Left Behinds as well, and they intend on holding to those promises, even if Afghanistan is yesterday’s news to the rest of the world and all the attention is being put on Ukraine.
I’m pretty sure that I can speak here for many of the veterans who have given so much of themselves to help their friends in their darkest and most desperate hour. We support the people of the Ukraine who have fled to other countries as refugees and are saddened by the humanitarian tragedy that is still unfolding.
But I also support those fleeing from or who remain trapped in Afghanistan, and I made them a promise. It’s a promise I intend to keep until there are no more left behind.
And that is my five cents worth about that.