Amherst veteran apprehensive for future of Afghanistan

Darrell
Darrell Cole
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Now that last Canadian troops have left country

Alan Theal has good and bad memories of his service in Afghanistan. Now that Canada is leaving, he admits to being a little worried about the county's future.

Alan Theal has good and bad memories of his service in Afghanistan. Now that Canada is leaving, he admits to being a little worried about the county's future.

AMHERST – As Canada winds down its mission in Afghanistan a veteran of the conflict said he many good and bad memories of his experience there.

However, he admits to being worried about what happens next.

“I feel our mission in Afghanistan did have some success in areas of rebuilding schools and roads, seeing women being able to go back to school and the training that was provided to their soldiers and police,” Alan Theal said. “I do, however, have concerns that now that all support is being withdrawn that Afghanistan may fall back into its old ways.”

His comments come as the Canadian flag was taken down for the last time in the Afghan capital of Kabul. The ceremony formally marked the end of Canada’s 12-year commitment in Afghanistan. The combat phase of operations ended a couple of years ago, while the training phase is also wrapping up.

The war cost the lives of 158 Canadian soldiers, a diplomat, a journalist and two civilian contractors. As many as 40,000 Canadian soldiers served in Afghanistan, beginning soon after the 9-11 attacks in 2001.

Theal spent 35 years in the military before retiring several years ago. He served in peacekeeping and combat missions and learned a lot of valuable skills including leadership and teamwork.

The Amherst resident led a team of transportation specialists around Kandahar beginning in 2006. The mission included carrying supplies to forward operating bases outside the safety of the city.

His team was exposed to insurgent attacks and improvised explosive devices that took the lives of countless Canadian and coalition forces as well as numerous civilians.

Theal’s team was never hit, but he said he attended more than his fair share of ramp ceremonies as the bodies of Canadian soldiers left Afghanistan to be repatriated back to Canada.

“I lost count of how many ramp ceremonies I was in, but I know that each one took something out of me and the people I served with. We knew the dangers going over there but I don’t think anyone of us realized just how dangerous it was,” Theal said. “We had lost peacekeepers before but this was different. You had to keep your wits about you at all times and it was really stressful.”

Theal, who tried to lead by example by going on the transport missions himself instead of sitting back at the base, said soldiers had to be on constant alert every time they left the safety of the base at Kandahar – although the base itself often came under rocket attack from members of the Taliban insurgency.

“I can say the hairs on the back of my head often stood up on end each time I left the gates of the base,” he said. “You never knew when it was going to happen. You didn’t know what your attacker was going to look like, they were never in uniform and you never knew when the next attack was going to come or who was going to get hit.”

Theal says Canadians made a huge difference in Afghanistan and now that the last Canadians are leaving the country he’s concerned for its future. He’s afraid it’s going to return to the warlike ways of the past and that Taliban will assume control after the coalition leaves.

“It sort of makes me wonder if everything we did and the sacrifices that were made will be in vain if things are allowed to go back to the way they were there.”

darrell.cole@tc.tc

Organizations: Taliban

Geographic location: Afghanistan, Amherst, Canada Kandahar Kabul

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