Canada will maintain Afghan evacuation for as long as deteriorating security permits: ministers

Federal ministers said Canada will help as many Canadians and Afghans escape Kabul as possible but warned that the security situation on the ground is bad and getting worse. 

Afghan refugees, Canadians told to not to go to Kabul airport unless they have guaranteed spot on plane

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino, left, is joined by Harjit Sajjan, minister of National Defence, for a press conference in Ottawa on July 23. The ministers also held a briefing today to update Canadians on the state of the evacuation from Kabul. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Canada will help as many Canadians and Afghans escape Kabul as possible, federal ministers said today, but they warned that the security situation on the ground is bad and getting worse. 

That position was made by several ministers during a public briefing today to detail the federal government's efforts to evacuate the vulnerable from Afghanistan now that the Taliban have all but taken over the country. 

"Our goal is clear: It is to evacuate as many Canadians and vulnerable Afghans as possible for as long as the security situation will allow, whether in Afghanistan or in a third country for those who manage to leave on their own," Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said in the briefing. 

The remarks suggest that the window to get people out of Kabul is shrinking and echo remarks made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier this week. 

"Unless the Taliban shift their posture significantly — which is something the international community and Canada are working on — it's going to be very difficult to get many people out," Trudeau told reporters on Thursday while campaigning in Victoria.

"We will get some certainly, but to get many people out, as many as we want, is going to be almost impossible in the coming weeks."

The crisis in Afghanistan will be a key issue under discussion when G7 leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, meet virtually on Tuesday of next week.

There have been numerous reports of shootings and stampedes among the crowds outside the airport gates. The airport is essentially the last place in Afghanistan considered secure from the Taliban.

The government has identified about 6,000 people eligible for resettlement who are currently in Afghanistan and has said that it has processed about half of those applications.

The government says it has plans to resettle a total of about 20,000 vulnerable Afghans, including women and children, as well as Canadian citizens, vulnerable minorities and Afghan nationals outside the country.

At least 20,000 Afghan refugees coming to Canada

When asked if Canada would consider increasing its quota of refugees from Afghanistan, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said he was keeping an "open mind" with respect to the number of people would help get out of Kabul and to Canada.

Garneau warned people seeking to flee Afghanistan on a military flight out of Kabul that they should not risk the perilous journey to the airport with the expectation of getting on a Canadian flight unless they have been contacted by Canadian officials telling them they have a seat on a plane. 

Watch: Mendicino says the Canadian government will exhaust 'every possible effort' to get vulnerable Afghans bound for resettlement in Canada on flights out of the country.

Is Canada doing enough to get eligible Afghan evacuees onto rescue flights?

3 months ago
Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino says the Canadian government will exhaust 'every possible effort' to get vulnerable Afghans bound for resettlement in Canada on flights out of the country. 8:59

"The security situation around the airport has deteriorated," Garneau said. "The airport is very busy, and there has been violence. The Taliban have established checkpoints along the route to the airport and all people travelling through the city [face danger]. We , recommend that you not go to the airport unless we've contacted you for a flight."

Mendicino said Canada has already organized 12 military flights out of Kabul carrying more than 1,100 people to safety,  and he pledged that the federal government would continue its operations as long as the situation on the ground permitted. 

Sajjan won't comment on forces' movements

"We are working tirelessly to build on those numbers. Flights have resumed, our armed forces are back on the ground co-ordinating closely with our coalition partners and boarding passengers as quickly as as safely as possible," Mendicino said. 

"We are working closely with the United States and other allies toward our shared objective of evacuating as many people as we can from Afghanistan," he added. 

Sajjan said that later in the day that he would be speaking with U.S.Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to discuss the evacuation. 

Mendicino said that Canada has struck an "air bridge agreement" with allies in the region that will permit people bound for Canada to escape Afghanistan on planes belonging to allies, while Canada reciprocates by transporting people bound for allied nations on its planes. 

Asked whether Canadian troops on the ground in Afghanistan were allowed to move beyond the wire of the Kabul airport to identify and transport people safely to waiting aircraft, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan would not provide details. 

"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," Sajjan said.  

Watch:  Defence minister speaks about the challenge getting Afghans past the Kabul airport perimeter:

Defence minister speaks about the challenge getting Afghans past the Kabul airport perimeter

3 months ago
Harjit Sajjan spoke with reporters during a government briefing on the situation at Kabul airport on Sunday. 0:38

The defence minister also said he could not discuss possible or considered actions that the Canadian military on the ground could take because the situation on the ground is changing so quickly the military is unsure when it will have to change tactics. 

He also explained that flights in and out of Kabul airport are flying missions under a very tight turn-around time.

He said that planes that land there have a brief window for how long they can remain on the tarmac before they have to take off and that Canadian soldiers on the ground are making the decisions about when planes need to leave regardless of how many people are on board.

Election is derailing rescue effort, say Singh, O'Toole

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said in Toronto that "maybe the fact that Justin Trudeau called an election might have impacted his ability to plan for the release or the evacuation of our allies in Afghanistan."

Singh said he is worried for the Afghan people who put their lives on the line to help Canadian soldiers on the field of battle and that everything that can be done to get those people to Canada safely should be done. 

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole told reporters in New Westminster, B.C., that he also feels calling a federal election has hampered Trudeau's ability to deal with the crisis. 

"Clearly the federal government is in an election mode and should be actually focused on COVID, on the fires here in British Columbia and the terrible situation in Afghanistan," O'Toole said. 

"What I find most frustrating is the fact that Mr Trudeau squandered five years, he squandered the last six months when veterans groups, NGOs were telling Mr Trudeau and his team that there is going to be chaos, there is going to be risk in Afghanistan," he added.  

O'Toole said Canada has to do everything it can to complete the evacuation.

Watch: 'Bring an end to war': former Afghan ambassador discusses Taliban rule:

'Bring an end to war': former Afghan ambassador discusses Taliban rule

3 months ago
Former Afghan ambassador to Canada Omar Samad discusses the uncertain future for Afghans under Taliban rule and what role Canada should play going forward. He says the people of Afghanistan have 'suffered enormously' and 'want peace in their lives.' 7:53