The hundreds of female hands held high in the sky showed why we fought in Afghanistan.
“Young ladies, raise your hands,” said Col. Roch Lacroix (retired), of the Royal Canadian Artillery, as hands warily, then steadily, went up around the gymnasium of St. John Catholic High School in Perth on Friday, Nov. 9. “Imagine that you are not allowed to go to school, have an education, voice an opinion, (send a) text. You look at a young man the wrong way. Imagine being executed for that? That’s what the Taliban did.”
Lacroix was on hand as the guest speaker at the school’s Remembrance Day ceremony, and he set the scene for the students as to what the situation on the ground looked like when he arrived in Kandahar province in 2009.
“Imagine a country that has been a war for (several) decades,” said Lacroix. “Imagine a bully comes into town. That was the Taliban (who) imposed their will, their brutality. They brainwashed, essentially, a whole generation.”
And it wasn’t just young women and girls who felt the Taliban’s wrath.
Lacroix then asked the young men to raise their hands, and informed them that, under Taliban rule, and later as the Taliban launched a myriad of hellish insurgent attacks, young males their age were often recruited, “whether you liked it or not. You had no choice,” even if it meant strapping a bomb onto one’s self, and detonating it in a crowded place, killing your brother and sister. If you refused, the rest of your family would be killed instead.
For Canadian and allied soldiers, this was the true face of war that they had been led into, even years after 9/11.
“That, ladies and gentlemen, was Afghanistan, when I got there,” said Lacroix.
During his time helping lead the troops, he saw 42 Canadian soldiers die, and 90 return home “maimed.”
One of those killed was Corp. Nicholas Bulger, 30, of Peterborough, Ont., of the 3rd Battalion of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, who died on July 3, 2009, when an improvised explosive device blew up the vehicle he was driving in Afghanistan’s Zhari district. He left behind a grieving wife and two daughters. A video was made for Bulger’s widow, which was shown at the assembly, of the good work done by Canada’s soldiers under difficult circumstances in Afghanistan.
“Nick didn’t die for nothing,” said Lacroix firmly. “The video has to show that the Afghans were not alone. We were there to assist them. When I left, I felt a sense of accomplishment.”
One of the Afghan success stories he met was a 16-year-old boy who dreamed of being a police officer. Thanks to a police academy which Canada helped found in Kandahar City, that young man was one day able to realize his dream and, after graduating, sought Lacroix out.
Before the arrival of western troops, the only education he got was through loudspeakers blasting religious propaganda, and the Taliban’s hard, intolerant take on Sharia law, which saw that “men run the show, women are second class.”
“You are now a certified policeman,” Lacroix told the young man. “Go out and bring the rule of law.”
“Thank you,” the young man replied, not just for the congratulations, but also for Canada helping to set up a literacy program which helped him learn. Because of that program, “I can now read the Koran and what I hear (from the loudspeakers) is not what the Koran teaches. It (the Koran) is not one of suppression… it is one of caring, it is one of love.”
When Lacroix left, about two million students, many of them girls, had returned to class, and about 200 teachers had been trained. Many of those classrooms were built thanks to Canadian aid.
“You should be proud what Canada did in Afghanistan,” said Lacroix. “Their efforts (of Canada’s 158 fallen) were not in vain.” He also predicted that, in time, “Afghanistan will be a wonderful place,” since, in its long and proud history, “it was an economic hub,” in the region.