Reflections from Kandahar

10/08/2018 Posted by admin

by Crystal Goomansingh

Soon I will be sleeping in my own bed safe and sound. This place – Afghanistan – will seem like a distant dusty, aggressive foreign land, but one that will forever be in my mind.

Maybe this country and all of the efforts being poured into it, is something you need to witness firsthand. Afghanistan and its people have not known peace for decades. So many leaders have used the locals to fight their battles that battling is a way of life.

Changing that will take time, but we don’t like things to linger. We are people of quick fixes. In a very general sense, I believe that’s how many people have viewed this war. I often hear: “It’s taking too long – so we must not be accomplishing our goals.” “What have we done there?” “Have we gotten rid of the Taliban (insurgents) yet?”

Canada has built schools and roads. We’ve taught locals to read, operate heavy machinery and created jobs in communities where there was none. We are training their soldiers and police officers so that they can eventually secure their own country. All these things equal a better quality of life and that quality of life, the Canadian Forces say, will lead to the Taliban’s ultimate defeat.

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While Canadians are here in a combat role, there is a lot of peacekeeping/relationship building work underway. Bottom line, everyone wants to know, “Is it worth it?” That is a difficult question.

As I sit here and write, Canada has lost 155 soldiers, one reporter, one diplomat, two aid workers, and hundreds others have been injured. I stood on the tarmac a few meters away from Cpl. Yannick Scherrer’s flag-draped coffin as it was loaded onto a plane bound for Canada. A ramp ceremony was the one thing I did not want to experience while here.

I take comfort knowing every soldier here knows what he or she signed up for and every single one I have spoken with over the past five weeks has said he or she is proud to be here. Proud to be fighting for the people of Afghanistan. I have also met a few of the soldiers injured in action. Two fought to get back to a battle-ready condition because, as I was told, this is where they belong. Being a soldier is what they do.

I do worry about the future health of these men and women. After experiencing just a tiny fraction of what they experienced day in and day out here, I can’t help but wonder how they will go back to a “normal life.” The threat of rocket attacks, gunfire, suicide bombers and IEDs makes you jumpy. Even walking around the base, I watch my footing. I don’t step on cardboard lying on the ground fearing there could be an IED underneath it. It’s not that I feel unsafe on the base – it’s just that you become very aware of what is under foot, at eye level and above your head.

For your own safety, you learn to examine everything and everyone around you. A motorbike on the road, for example, I was told by a soldier, to look at how low it’s riding. Does it have double shocks? If so, that could mean it’s loaded up with explosives. An ex-marine working out here as a contractor told me he puts his “situational awareness” on a dimmer switch. It gets dialled up in dangerous places and dialled down at home.

A number of politicians and military leaders have promised support for soldiers and I hope they’re readily available if or when they are needed. Come July, nearly 3,000 soldiers will unload their weapons, take off their flack jackets and head home.

Hopefully, they will also be sleeping safely and soundly.

Global National photojournalist Jeff Stephen and Crystal.

Crystal is Global National’s Manitoba correspondent, based in Winnipeg. She spent the past few weeks reporting from Kandahar, Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter: @CGoomansingh.

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