Nova Scotia

N.S. veteran unhappy as Taliban retakes control of Afghanistan

A Nova Scotia veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan is wondering if his efforts were worth it as the Taliban retakes control of the country.

Tyson Bowen of Pictou County served 2 tours in Afghanistan with the Canadian Armed Forces

Tyson Bowen, pictured, moved to a farm in Lorne, N.S., with his wife and 2 young daughters in 2019. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

A Nova Scotia veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan is wondering if his efforts were worth it as the Taliban retakes control of the country.

"Veterans are very perturbed, disgusted, angry, depressed ... as the mission that we put all our time and effort into, and so many Canadian lives, is now for naught," Tyson Bowen, who lives in Pictou County, told CBC Radio's Mainstreet on Thursday.

The Taliban has been sweeping Afghanistan in recent weeks — taking control of two-thirds of the country — as the last of the United States-led international forces are set to leave and end the two-decade war.

The insurgents have captured half of the country's 34 provincial capitals in recent days, including its second- and third-largest cities, Herat and Kandahar, which was a hub for Canada's 13-year combat mission.

The speed of their advance has sparked widespread recriminations of U.S. President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw troops and leave the Afghan government to fight alone.

More than 40,000 Canadians served in Afghanistan and 158 were killed. Thousands more suffered physical and psychological wounds that have led to additional deaths by suicide.

Canada's combat role ended in 2011 and shifted to one of training. The last Canadian troops left Afghanistan in March 2014.

Still, the news that the Taliban is retaking the country has Bowen frustrated. The 14-year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces served tours in Afghanistan in 2007 and 2010. 

Bowen is seen wearing military gear during one of his tours in Afghanistan. Bowen served 14 years with the Canadian Armed Forces, rising up the ranks from rifleman to section commander. (Submitted by Tyson Bowen)

His mission was to promote security and stability in Afghanistan by nation building. He met local families and helped build schools and pave roads.

"Building a country from the ground up like Afghanistan takes more than 20 years unfortunately, but Western society doesn't have time for that," Bowen said. 

"So with the U.S. pullout and the Canadian pullout as well, this is now a reality where Afghanistan will now fall back under Taliban control."

He said while touring in Afghanistan, many soldiers were hopeful that they could one day take their families to visit a fully liberated country.

The Taliban are retaking Afghanistan. Host Jeff Douglas spoke with Tyson Bowen, a 15-year Canadian Armed Forces veteran who served two tours in Afghanistan, about how he's feeling and how his comrades are reacting to the developments. 11:50

Those hopes have since been eradicated.

"To take them [to Afghanistan] — like the veterans of World War II are able to take them to France and the Netherlands and show them that and give a little bit of closure — we still don't have that closure and never will," Bowen said

'We tried to do the best we could'

Bowen said the resurgence of the Taliban is affecting the mental health of many veterans, himself included.

He was diagnosed with PTSD in 2015 and medically released in 2018.

Now he's wondering if what he and his fellow troops did in Afghanistan was truly worth it.

"We tried to do as best we could, but now we're not there anymore … now it just falls back into chaos," he said.

"That turns our lives into chaos because now we have to deal with those emotional traumas on top of our PTSD and our chronic injuries and our common injuries as well."

A group of Canadian troops is seen in Afghanistan with a local guide wearing a black ski mask. Bowen, pictured second from right in the back row, said interpreters would wear ski masks to protect their identity from the Taliban. The other faces have been blurred due to security reasons. (Submitted by Tyson Bowen)

Bowen said he's also worried about the Afghan people who helped Canadian troops during the war and are still in the country.

A special immigration program is underway to bring in Afghans who helped Canadian troops as government-assisted refugees. The first flight carrying dozens of Afghan workers landed in Toronto earlier this month.

Thousands more are expected to arrive in the coming weeks.

But Bowen fears it's too late for some.

"We'd have language assistance right from the villages that we patrolled sometimes, and they would patrol with ski masks in 60 C weather just to hide their identity so they could help us, in hopes that maybe one day they could get a ticket to Canada," he said. 

"And now look at what we're doing. We're only 10 years too late and half the country's gone back to the Taliban." 

WATCH | Kandahar was hub of Canada's combat mission:

Dreams of progress lost with fall of Kandahar

5 months ago
Duration 2:02
For many in Canada, the fall of Kandahar is especially bitter because it was a hub for Canada's combat mission and filled with dreams of progress that have now been dashed. 2:02

Bowen said in spite of the disheartening developments, he believes Canadian troops would be willing to return to Afghanistan to help.

"We're still here and we're ready … there's a whole Afghan population that aren't Taliban and want to live there and be in peace," he said. 

"So hopefully the government forces and the regular Afghan people will take charge of this and actually change the tides."

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said there were 148 Canadians killed while serving in Afghanistan. The correct figure is 158.
    Aug 14, 2021 10:54 AM AT

With files from CBC's Mainstreet

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