Cross Country Checkup·Ask Me Anything

Poor communication among forces causing chaos in Afghanistan, says retired major-general

Efforts to bring Afghan citizens to Canada as the Taliban takes hold of their country must be sped up, according to David Fraser who served in Afghanistan and led coalition forces as part of Operation Medusa in 2006.

Withdrawal effort's 'fatal flaw' was a lack of understanding of people's will: David Fraser

Afghan people gather along a road as they wait to board a U.S. military aircraft to leave the country, at a military airport in Kabul on Aug. 20, 2021, days after Taliban's military takeover of Afghanistan. (Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images)

As the Taliban take hold of Afghanistan, efforts to bring Afghan citizens to Canada must be sped up, according to retired major-general David Fraser.

"Let's talk to the people on the ground in the veterans' groups and the other groups that are taking all these people," said Fraser, who led more than 2,000 NATO coalition troops as part of Operation Medusa in the Afghan province of Kandahar in 2006.

"Let's facilitate the safe passage of those Afghans and others through that sea of humanity onto the airport, into a Canadian Air Force plane, and let's get them out of the country and sort them out once they get out."

Taliban forces seized control of Afghanistan and its capital, Kabul, in recent weeks following the withdrawal of U.S. and allied troops who fought a 20-year war in the country.

Thousands are gathered at the Kabul airport hoping to secure transport out of the country, leading to chaos. At least seven people were killed in a panicked crush at the airport, the British military said on Sunday.

Federal ministers say that Canada is working to help as many people as possible escape Kabul, but warn that the situation is bad and deteriorating

On Friday, about 300 people were evacuated from the area by Canadian military. More flights are planned in the coming days, a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino told Cross Country Checkup in a statement.

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As part of Checkup's regular Ask Me Anything series, Fraser answered callers' questions on the situation in Afghanistan and what led to the crisis.

Could the withdrawal have gone differently?

Calling from Charlottetown, listener Keith MacDonald asked Fraser for his opinion on the "most appropriate" way to withdraw from Afghanistan.

Fraser responded simply, saying "not the way that we did it."

He said that leaders on both sides underestimated the effect that the 3,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan had on morale among Afghan troops before their departure.

Amid crowds of people, U.S. soldiers stand guard along the perimeter at the international airport in Kabul, on Aug. 16. (Shekib Rahmani/The Associated Press)

Afghan troops, he argued, lost hope that they could deal with the Taliban in the wake of the withdrawal, giving the regime a foothold in the country.

"The people didn't believe what the Afghan leadership was selling, and they actually believed the Taliban more," said Fraser. "The Taliban were able to take over the country essentially peacefully with very little fighting in a timeline that nobody anticipated."

"So the transition plan had a fatal flaw in it, and that was a lack of understanding of the people and about the will of the people."

Why is there confusion among people seeking refuge?

Doris Lund in Prince Albert, Sask., questioned why there has been so much confusion for Afghans seeking an evacuation flight.

She points to reports of people being told by officials to arrive at the Kabul airport who are ultimately turned away.

"This is what just makes me sick every day when I hear that because, you know, I'm dealing with groups of people on the ground and we're hearing that," Fraser said.

The retired major-general says traversing Kabul is unlike commuting through a city like Toronto or Vancouver. People are forced to cross through Taliban and military checkpoints through the city in order to get to the airport, he noted.

There's a need to improve communication among ground forces to improve the situation, Fraser said.

"We need to ... make sure that we send out the right message to the people — tell them at the right time, keep it simple, make sure that everything is ready at the gate [and] when they get through there that we can actually get them through," he told Lund.

Outside the Kabul international airport, an Afghan baby is pushed toward U.S. soldiers over a wall with security wire, in a video captured by Omar Haidari on Aug. 19. (Omar Haidari/The Associated Press)

Can the Taliban stabilize the country?

As the Taliban takes hold of Afghanistan, Alex Walsh from Montreal asked how the regime could establish a "stable governance structure."

Fraser says the Taliban's willingness to keep Kabul airport open, and speak with U.S. officials, signals an opportunity for the international community.

"If they [the Taliban] can keep this country stable and keep talking and ... allow people out, and if they can do even more, they might get concessions and they might get some support from the international community as long as it is stable," he said.

Stability is crucial to avoid providing a sanctuary for the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, Fraser explained. 

He adds that stability could allow the Taliban to run the country "better than what they have done before."

"There is an opportunity here to see whether or not we can find some sort of accommodation where they can do something that benefits us, and in return it actually benefits all Afghans so they don't have to live in an oppressed country," said Fraser.

Written by Jason Vermes with files from The Associated Press and CBC News. Produced by Steve Howard.

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