TORONTO — As the Canadian Armed Forces land in Afghanistan to assist in getting Canadians, Afghans and their families out of the country, friends and relatives in Canada are distressed at the escalating chaos and frustrated by Ottawa’s efforts.
Maryam Sahar, a former interpreter with the Canadian Armed Forces who has not seen her family in a decade, says she has not had communication with them since they went into hiding five days earlier and is worried for their safety.
“I do not want to hear the news that my family will be executed, my colleagues who I worked with in Kandahar, the interpreters, [that] their families will be executed,” Sahar told CTV News Channel’s Power Play on Thursday.
Tens of thousands of Afghan interpreters worked for Canadian, U.S. and other allies during the war in Afghanistan, and many are worried they will be targeted and killed by the Taliban. Sahar says the Canadian government had the opportunity weeks ago to get interpreters out and delivered a very personal and direct message to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for his failure to do so.
“If my family get executed or any other family get executed, know that you have their blood on your hands,” she said.
“The only person who is going to be responsible for the murder, merciless murder of the interpreters in Afghanistan, that will be only — and only — the leader of this country and that’s going to be Justin Trudeau.”
Retired Maj.-Gen. Dean Milner, the last task force commander of Canada’s mission in Afghanistan, formed close bonds on the battlefield with Afghan interpreters and military officials.
“They are great people. I want to see every single one of the interpreters on a flight. We should not be giving in,” he said.
Earlier this summer, Canadian veterans began sounding the alarm after witnessing the speed with which the Taliban was taking over many parts of the country. They urged Ottawa to move quickly to get former Afghan interpreters and advisors out and resettled in Canada.
Now it is too late, Sahar says, adding how “heartbreaking” it was to see Canada able to close their embassy and get their diplomats out so quickly, while leaving interpreters behind. She has friends desperate to get out, she says, but are now trapped, with no one responding to their pleas for help.
“That’s literally leaving your allies behind and my family is one of them, hiding in Kabul,” she said.
“Everything collapsed … people are in hiding, they will not be able to make it to the airports, their passports are expired, the passport offices are closed.”
Trudeau put the blame on Taliban checkpoints for the slow pace of evacuation, rather than bureaucratic red tape and a lack of responsiveness from immigration officials.
“We just need people to be able to get to the airport right now. The Taliban are preventing them from doing so, which is why we’ve seen a number of the planes airlifting people out have not been full,” he said on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Taliban’s promise to not seek revenge, to respect women’s rights and press freedom has been met with broad skepticism from political leaders and locals alike, with reports of violence belying their words.
“I do not trust a word that they are saying, because in Afghanistan, the mentality is when you’re associated with the infidel, you’re associated with it forever,” Sahar said.
“We were the ears and eyes of the military but we took the risks because we were working for a peaceful Afghanistan. We trusted the mission.”
Despite having personnel on the ground now and an aircraft ready to bring people to safety, Trudeau acknowledged on Thursday it was going to be “almost impossible” to get as many people as they want out of the country.
CTV News obtained a message informing some Afghans on the evacuation list that they had a spot on a flight out of Kabul, but the message does not offer any information on where or how to access the airport.
“If you arrive at the airport perimeter and are initially turned away, please remain in the area and attempt again,” the message says.
Sahar described Canada as generous and compassionate, and that she has benefited from that.
“As a new Canadian citizen, it’s very heartbreaking to see that my new country’s values are not represented the way it should be represented.”
With files from CTV National News’ Genevieve Beauchemin and The Canadian Press