Canada’s effort to airlift those fleeing Taliban rule out of Afghanistan has come to an end, says the acting chief of the defence staff.
A notice sent out this morning from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada say that evacuation operations are done and “at this time, no further evacuation flights are being planned.”
“The government of Canada recognizes that there are a number of people in Afghanistan, including Canadian citizens, permanent residents, their families, and applicants under programs for Afghans,” said the notice sent to all on the government’s list.
“Until such a time that the security situation stabilizes, be mindful of the security environment and where possible, take the necessary steps to ensure your security and that of your family.”
General Wayne Eyre, the acting chief of the defence staff, said most of the Canadian personnel still in the country left Hamid Karzai International Airport eight hours ago, although a small contingent has stayed behind to support allies.
A Pentagon spokesperson confirmed there was an explosion outside Kabul’s airport today. There was no immediate word on casualties.
The Department of National Defence (DND) confirmed that all CAF members are safe and accounted for.
“The situation on the ground remains dangerous and CAF personnel are taking all appropriate personal security measures,” said a DND media statement.
General Eyre said Canada has helped to evacuate more than 3,700 people from Kabul.
Tens of thousands of Afghans fearing persecution under the Taliban, which swept to power in recent days, have rushed to Kabul’s airport hoping to escape the country.
Among those seeking to flee Afghanistan are Afghans who worked with Canadian troops during Canada’s mission who now fear retribution at the hands of the Taliban.
It’s unclear how many Canadians and people who applied to come to Canada remain stranded. Officials briefing reporters this morning said they received applications representing 8,000 people and that two-thirds of those applications have been processed.
But they said they don’t have a tally of how many didn’t make it out. They said not all of the people who applied are necessarily still in Afghanistan and many might have fled to neighbouring countries.
“Their pleas and the photos of the families in terrible situations that accompany many of them are heart-wrenching,” said General Eyre. “They tear at our souls.”
U.S. withdrawing Tuesday
The U.S. plans to complete the withdrawal of its forces from the country on Tuesday.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said Wednesday that Canada needed to get its crews and equipment out of the country before then.
“As the Americans draw down to meet their deadline, partner nations, including Canada, must draw down our troops, assets and aircraft ahead of the Americans,” he said. “These moves are necessary for the U.S. to safely maintain control of the airport until they depart.”
The White House said Thursday that since Aug. 14, it has evacuated and helped in the evacuation of about 95,700 people. Britain said on Wednesday it has evacuated more than 11,000 people from Afghanistan.
Advocacy groups, families and those on the ground have reported problems reaching officials and have criticized the government for not acting sooner.
For months, interpreters and their families appealed to Canada to bring them to safety as the Taliban tightened its control.
The Canadian military was in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014. Canada ended its combat mission in 2011 but kept soldiers in the country for another three years to help train the Afghan National Security Forces.
In 2009, under the Harper government, Canada offered refuge to approximately 800 interpreters fearing for their lives in Afghanistan, but the program had restrictive criteria.
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