TORONTO — The U.S. is outpacing Canada at meeting the ‘moral obligation’ to get Afghan interpreters and other support staff out of Afghanistan, a military historian says, as Ottawa still has not released a timeline for their plans.
The U.S. is in their final phases of troop withdrawal before the military operation ends completely on Aug. 31. The Biden administration has begun the relocation of hundreds of Afghan interpreters and their immediate families who have applied for a specialised visa to Fort Lee, a U.S. Army post in Virginia.
The first cohort of relocation flights are expected to take off from Afghanistan by the end of July, and when they land they will be provided temporary housing and services by the Department of Defense on the base at the request of the Department of State, according to a spokesperson.
Temporary safe haven outside of Afghanistan is also being arranged by the U.S. for the thousands of Afghan interpreters and their families who have not finished the visa and security vetting process.
While the Canadian government has repeatedly acknowledged a responsibility to help the Afghan interpreters who put their lives on the line alongside Canadian troops, their words have yet to materialize into action – something military historian Howard Coombs finds hard to believe.
When asked if the U.S. doing a better job of meeting the “moral obligation” to Afghan interpreters, his answer was emphatic.
“Indeed yes, I am at a loss to see why we cannot step up in a similar fashion” Coombs, who has served twice in Afghanistan, said to CTV News.
Word of the U.S. withdrawal has caused a resurgence of the Taliban, who claim to control 80 per cent of the country, and launched a new series of large-scale attacks.
Interpreters waiting for word from Ottawa have been pleading for aid as the situation gets more dangerous – saying the Taliban has promised to hunt them down for aiding foreign forces.
“If they take over Kabul, that day will come and they will behead us all,” said one interpreter to CTV News. “They will kill us.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked about Ottawa’s plan for Afghan interpreters while touring a factory in Brampton, Ont., Monday, telling reporters that “it is so important that we be there for people that have put their lives at risk to support Canadians.”
“That’s why we are working extremely hard and we’ll have more to say very soon,” he continued.
But promises of “soon” are not enough to keep the interpreters, and their families, safe.
“If they catch me, they are going to kill me, they are going to kill my kids and they are going to kill my wife too,” said another interpreter.
With files from CTV National News’ L.A. bureau chief Tom Walters