Hearing reports out of Kabul, most Canadians feel shame and disgrace over how poorly we apparently evacuated people on the ground.
A number of these reports, primarily from former foreign correspondent Kevin Newman, claimed that every other country did better than Canada. For instance, according to Newman, while Canada dithered, the French carried out “ballsy” commando operations, rescuing hundreds of evacuees. Twice.
Yet the UK's Sky News, which tracked international numbers, reports that Canada airlifted significantly more evacuees, some 3700, than France’s 2100 (France’s prime minister has since upped their estimate to 2500).
Nor does Newman's claim that every other country did better than Canada hold up.
Table: Non-US Airlift Evacuation Count
* Not participants in NATO's Operation Resolute Support (January 2015-June 2021) Numbers compiled by Sky News.
Only the UK, Germany, Italy and Australia extracted more evacuees than we did, and only Australia and the UK airlifted more per capita of their population. Tellingly, all of them took part in NATO’s 38 nation Resolute Support Mission (RSM), which ran from 2015 through the summer of 2021. Canada, by contrast, has had no military ground operations in Afghanistan since 2014.
In other words, each country that airlifted more evacuees than Canada had better on-the-ground operational capacity, local intelligence, and months to prepare than we did.
The UK, for instance, which still had almost 1000 troops on the ground after the fall of Kabul, began its removal efforts in April.
And of all nations conducting major evacuation efforts, none has committed to accept more refugees than Canada. The UK matches our commitment of 20,000, but over 5 years. Australia has only committed to accept 3,000. Germany will take 10,000. Most EU nations are not releasing their refugee commitments yet.
Undoubtedly there is fair criticism of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) It’s inexcusable how cumbersome and unwieldy our processing management is at the best of times, let alone during a global crisis, when it most needs to be responsive and flexible. Government communications have been poor. Desperate people were left hanging and alone, apparently abandoned, as our last flight out of Kabul left.
But the poor communications and bureaucratic red tape that plagued this effort also struck every other country conducting airlifts out of Kabul. Every one of them was forced to leave deserving people behind, and faces media stories at home condemning their apparent ineptitude.
That's not to make excuses. We should do better. The Afghanistan airlift disaster may not have been of our making, but we must shoulder responsibility where we can. No one is, or should be, cheering anywhere.
At the same time, we have a duty to be fair with criticism, and give credit where it’s due. Our soldiers in uniform and many others put their lives at risk to carry out an astonishingly difficult mission, all the while knowing that terrorists were waiting to attack.
Indeed, even as Western governments warned people away from the Kabul airport, or to leave it immediately due to the threat of an imminent terror attack, many journalists on social media expressed shame and outrage when Canada pre-emptively suspended its evacuation efforts.
When the expected attack came, it killed an estimated 170 people, including 13 American soldiers. Those dead could have been our soldiers, officials and citizens, but for our difficult decision to leave and spare them that fate.
What happened last week is deeply unfair to the many Canadians who struggled heroically to save thousands of lives as a nation fell and a city of 4.5 million people collapsed. Our soldiers should not be expected to showboat gonzo-style through the streets of Kabul, or be blown to bits in a terror attack to earn our respect.
Before the howls erupt on social media, it's incumbent on us to at least fact-check some of the more inflammatory claims. None of the information was secret.
Finally, Biden’s deadline of August 31 will come and go, but Afghanistan’s ongoing humanitarian catastrophe is here to stay. As if the Taliban and now ISIS K were not enough, hunger and possible starvation awaits as many as 14 million Afghans, according to the World Food Programme.
Last week Germany’s foreign minister Heiko Maas told Der Spiegel that Germany anticipates an Afghan exodus of between 500,000 to 5 million refugees. Given what will surely emerge as yet another humanitarian disaster, perhaps our focus and attention should turn to the fate of the Afghan people as a whole.
Even the ones who never worked a day for us.