Politics

Canada ready to continue evacuating Afghans over the coming weeks: Trudeau

Canada is prepared to continue sending military transports back to Kabul to carry on evacuating desperate Afghans in the coming weeks, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today.

Evacuation effort will depend on securing the airport in Kabul

Hundreds of people run alongside a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane as it moves down a runway at the international airport in Kabul on Monday. Some held onto the American military jet as it took off — before plunging to their deaths. (Verified UGC via AP)

Canada is prepared to continue sending military transports back to Kabul to carry on evacuating desperate Afghans in the coming weeks, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today.

But that evacuation effort will depend in large part on the ability of U.S. and Canadian troops to secure the city's airport — the fragile gateway to a tenuous air bridge for thousands of people fleeing the Taliban following the overthrow of the democratically elected government of President Ashraf Ghani.

At least four Canadian evacuation flights have gotten out of the city over the last several weeks. They've brought out at least 807 Afghans and about 500 of them have since arrived in Canada.

Thousands remain stranded in the chaos and panic engulfing Kabul. Some former military interpreters on Canada's waiting list went out to the airport on Sunday in a futile attempt to board aircraft but were refused entry at the gate.

Trudeau said he was "absolutely horrified" by the heartbreaking scenes emerging from Kabul of despondent Afghans clinging to the wheels of a departing U.S. Air Force transport plane. He vowed to continue the evacuation effort alongside allies.

The Associated Press, quoting a high-level U.S. official, reported that U.S. Gen. Frank McKenzie, who is in charge of the U.S. Central Command, met face-to-face with Taliban leaders on Monday and warned them not to interfere with the massive evacuation effort.

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Liberal leader Justin Trudeau says over 500 Afghans have arrived in Canada from the war-torn country. 2:28

Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby told reporters in Washington that there are now 2,500 American troops at the airport.

Trudeau said Canadian special forces are working alongside the American soldiers to secure the airport. He said Canadian military transports are standing by to return when it's clear the situation on the ground is secure. 

"We have military still in Afghanistan right now," the prime minister said. "We are staging out of Kuwait, including military aircraft. We're looking very closely with our allies at what those next steps could be."

A Taliban fighter sits on the back of a vehicle with a machine gun in front of the main gate leading to the Afghan presidential palace in Kabul on Monday, (Rahmat Gul/The Associated Press)

Canada has relied on a mixture of military and contracted airlift for its evacuation. With the security situation on the ground growing worse, however, contractors are increasingly reluctant to make the dangerous journey.

U.S. President Joe Biden — defending his decision to stick with the Trump administration's withdrawal agreement — today said he has authorized additional troops to help with the evacuation, bringing the total American military presence to 6,000.

He said he wants to see the Kabul airport made able to handle both military and civilian air traffic. 

"Over the coming days, we intend to transport out thousands of American citizens who have been living and working in Afghanistan," Biden said. "We'll also continue to support the safe departure of civilian personnel of our allies."

The U.S. already has resettled as many as 2,000 Afghans who worked for the military and their families and Biden said his administration intends to continue the effort.

Trudeau said officials will continue processing the applications of Afghans who want to come to Canada at remote locations now that the Canadian embassy in Kabul is closed.

'Everybody' underestimated the speed of Taliban takeover: Garneau

The Liberal government has faced withering criticism from veterans and opposition parties over the pace of its evacuation effort.

The Opposition Conservatives said some constituents, veterans and at least one non-governmental organization (NGO) have tried to get answers out of federal departments on the status of applications of individual Afghans without success.

"Despite repeated attempts to communicate with the Liberal government on what's being done to save the lives of these individuals, they have yet to respond," said Michelle Rempel Garner, Conservative candidate for Calgary Nose Hill, and Alex Ruff, Conservative candidate for Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound in a joint statement.

"The lives of these Afghans are in danger, and they need an immediate response."

The Conservatives blame the calling of the election, which has put the federal government in caretaker mode.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau defended the government's handling of the crisis, saying events swiftly spiralled out of control.

"Let me just say that everybody, everybody, all intelligence communities, underestimated the speed with which the Taliban moved in to take over the control of the country and how quickly the Afghan military were ready to surrender," Garneau told CBC's Power & Politics Monday.

"I can understand the frustration, but this has happened very, very fast. And we have been trying to deal with that reality as quickly as possible, to get as many of the eligible Afghans out of the country as possible, and we will continue to do that."

On the question of whether Canada would follow the example of the U.S. and refuse to recognize the Taliban government, Garneau was noncommittal.

"It's early days and we have to see what happens," he said.

He added that the international community will have to see how the Taliban behave now that they're back in power.

Conservatives would not recognize Taliban

Responding in a statement, Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said his party would not recognize the Taliban.

"The use of force by the Taliban is completely unacceptable and that's why today I am announcing that a Conservative government will not recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan," he said. "A Conservative government will also commit to ensuring that aid provided to the Afghan people does not end up in the hands of the Taliban regime."

The United Nations Security Council has called for an immediate halt to hostilities in Afghanistan and the establishment of a new government "that is united, inclusive and representative" and also includes women.

It was the council's first statement since the collapse of Afghanistan's government. Ghani fled into exile on Sunday. 

Trudeau said the Taliban needs to end the violence and restore order outside the airport, where tens of thousands of people are still encamped and waiting for their chance to escape.

"We need to see the Taliban step up and permit the evacuation of those who want to leave, and that is what we are expecting of them," Trudeau said, noting Canada and dozens of other countries released a declaration Sunday night calling on the new regime to keep the borders open.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Murray Brewster

Defence and security

Murray Brewster is senior defence writer for CBC News, based in Ottawa. He has covered the Canadian military and foreign policy from Parliament Hill for over a decade. Among other assignments, he spent a total of 15 months on the ground covering the Afghan war for The Canadian Press. Prior to that, he covered defence issues and politics for CP in Nova Scotia for 11 years and was bureau chief for Standard Broadcast News in Ottawa.

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