“The Taliban are not afraid of guns and bombs; they are afraid of school children with textbooks. That’s why (Kevin) left, ”says Fred McKay
BARRIE – With Afghanistan now under Taliban rule, Canada’s involvement in this war-torn country is being commemorated, celebrated and questioned.
Perhaps more than by the Silver Cross mothers and fathers of fallen soldiers who served with honor.
When the Canadian soldier and native of the Barrie region Pte. Kevin McKay was killed in action in Afghanistan on May 13, 2010, he died knowing he had made a difference in a country that needed all the help it could get.
“The reason Kevin wanted to go to Afghanistan was so the kids could go to school,” says his father, Fred McKay. Barrie today in a telephone interview from Perth in the Ottawa area. “He wanted them to at least have a glimpse of what life could be like if they could go to school and reject the ideology of the Taliban.
“The Taliban are not afraid of guns and bombs; they are afraid of school children with textbooks. That’s why he left. “
Kevin McKay, who grew up in the Horseshoe Valley of Oro-Medonte Township and attended WR Best Public School and Barrie’s Eastview Secondary School, was 24 when he was killed by an improvised explosive device during of his last night patrol, just two days before the end of his tour of duty.
Fred McKay (pronounced “mac-eye”) says the village his son was assigned to at one time was a hotbed of Taliban activity.
“When our troops reached the village and were able to tell the elders that it was safe for the children to return to school, Kevin volunteered for the first patrol which started in the morning at 6 a.m. He said. “He wanted to do the first patrol because he wanted to see the smiles on the children’s faces when they returned to school after a long absence, or for the first time.
“It is the key to the future in Afghanistan, it is to give an education to the children. He had this little personal victory and could see the smiles on the children’s faces, and this magical moment of feeling of accomplishment and mission accomplished.
As distant as they seem now, there have been some victories, and others not so small.
“The Canadian military has built 55 schools and most Canadians don’t know it,” says McKay. “They built clinics and helped farmers with pumps and generators and a bit of know-how. That’s how they conquered the people, but you can’t keep the soldiers there forever.
So what kind of legacy is left?
“It’s not just Kevin, it’s the Canadian military and all NATO troops,” McKay says. “They have had this country 20 years of education for children. It’s a generation.
“See it all go down now when the troops have retreated …” he said with a pause. “My question for the Canadian government, the Afghan government and NATO is, ‘What did you think was going to happen?’
“Donald Trump wanted to be the great peacemaker, so he made a deal with the devil (the Taliban as opposed to the Afghan government) I think… and he muddied the waters.”
Before Trump, however, there were years of NATO-led training of Afghan soldiers.
“Our soldiers did their best to train the Afghan army. They had 300,000 trained and equipped soldiers, but they stopped engaging with the Taliban, ”McKay said. “They are afraid of the Taliban because they are ruthless.
“But if they are not going to fight for their country, then I don’t think it is appropriate that we fight for their country for them,” he adds. “We taught them how to do it and we equipped them. You can lead a horse to the watering hole, but you cannot force it to drink. They trained the Afghan army and I think it was the Afghan government that dropped the ball. They did not take advantage of this training and the education that the children received.
Recognizing that coalition forces could not stay in the country forever, McKay says he – maybe like many, many other Canadians– I would have liked to see a different result.
“They should have stayed until the job was done,” he said of the coalition forces. “They are soldiers. They wanted to be there. Kevin wanted to be there. They went there to help, not to hurt.
“They were crippled by the rules of engagement where they weren’t allowed to search and destroy the enemy,” McKay adds. “Instead, they did other things. Better things, in fact.
Does he think Kevin died in vain?
“Not for a second. We are very proud of what Kevin and all the soldiers have done. It was because he wanted to see the looks of those Afghan children when they returned to school that he went there, ”McKay says. “As we know, there will be no victory day in Afghanistan when the enemy is defeated and the good guys have won. It’s just going to go on and on.
“But at least for a while then there were a lot of kids going to school. So it was a victory. “