The federal government has confirmed for the first time that Canada’s special forces are operating outside the security cordon of the airport in Afghanistan’s capital, working to shepherd people from Kabul into the airport.
In order to respond to questions about efforts by Canadian Armed Forces on the ground inside and outside Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA), the decision was made “to disclose that Canada’s special operations forces have been and continue to work outside the confines of HKIA,” a government official said on background.
“Members of Canada’s special operations forces are working relentlessly to bring as many Canadian citizens and eligible Afghan nationals and their families through the security gates to waiting aircraft,” the official said during a briefing for journalists Monday.
The disclosure that Canada’s special forces are operating outside the confines of the Kabul airport is significant because it marks a departure from the federal government’s policy of not divulging operational details of the special forces currently working in Afghanistan.
“For operational security reasons, for obvious reasons, I cannot divulge exactly what our troops are doing. One thing I can say: they have all of the flexibility to make all of the appropriate decisions so they can take action,” Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said Sunday.
Germany and the United States have previously revealed that they have been sending helicopters to collect people stuck outside the confines of the airport in Kabul, while France detailed how it negotiated with the Taliban for safe passage of a convoy of buses into the airfield.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today in Halifax that he would be joining British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s effort to impose further sanctions on Afghanistan’s Taliban regime when the leaders meet with other G7 leaders virtually on Tuesday.
Officials speaking on background Monday confirmed that since the start of the airlift Canada has evacuated 1,700 Canadians and eligible Afghans from Kabul on a total of 13 flights.
Four of those flights have taken place since Aug. 19, with 188 people being taken on the first flight, 106 on the second, 121 on the third and 436 on the fourth. Hundreds of passengers from the fourth flight have been transferred to another flight and are now on their way to Canada.
Passengers on these flights include Canadian citizens and their family members, permanent residents of Canada, foreign nationals, Afghan nationals accepted under Canada’s immigration program, Afghan nationals accepted under allies’ immigration programs and dozens of service members from 12 other nations taking part in the U.S.-led air-bridge as well as military assets.
Global Affairs Canada had recently purged its websites and social media amid Taliban takeover
Global Affairs Canada is purging content from its websites and social media platforms in what officials say is a bid to protect Afghans at risk of reprisal from the Taliban.
But some of the content being removed or hidden also appears to include tweets that condemned the Taliban for “violent, destructive action” and others that promoted gender equality initiatives.
“Given the current environment and the increased risk to Afghan nationals who worked with Canada in Afghanistan, we are reviewing our public-facing websites and social media platforms to ensure content, including imagery, does not pose a risk to Afghan nationals who supported us,” spokesperson Christelle Chartrand said on Friday evening.
“This is in line with our international partners.”
She said there is a “large volume” of photos and videos now being reviewed and removed, but would not comment on why the content being removed appears to include posted statements and retweets of Canadian government initiatives to promote gender equality.
“The privacy and safety of Afghan nationals who worked with Canada are of utmost importance and we will continue to take all possible measures when necessary,” she wrote in an email.
“For security reasons, we cannot provide additional details about our operations.”
“Our ongoing work to bring Canadians and Afghans to safety in Canada under the Special Immigration Measures continues and remains a top priority,” said a spokesperson for the department last week.
“Given the large number of imagery that we have published on multiple platforms throughout our years in Afghanistan, the manual review and removal process will have taken time,” the official said.
“We are using the accounts to provide important information as early as possible, on the special immigration program and consular info.”
This content is also available in: Tiếng Việt