First Canadian military flight out of Kabul since Taliban takeover shuttles 188 passengers to safety

There were 188 people onboard the first Canadian military plane to depart Kabul since the Taliban takeover, CBC News has learned.

Canada has said it will conduct the rescue mission for as long as the Kabul airport remains secure

Crowds of people on a raod leading to an airport
Crowds of people gather on a roadside near the military part of the Kabul airport on Aug. 20, 2021, hoping to flee from the country after the Taliban's takeover. (Wakil Kohsar/AFP/Getty Images)

There were 188 people onboard the first Canadian plane to depart Kabul since the Taliban seized Afghanistan earlier this week, as the military attempts to speed up its rescue and resettlement mission.

The flight left the Kabul airport late Thursday evening carrying 175 vulnerable Afghans and 13 foreign nationals, the Department of National Defence (DND) said in a statement. 

The DND said the people on board "have been accepted under the immigration programs of other nations.

"Other participating nations are, in turn, carrying Canadian citizens and Afghan nationals destined for Canada on their flights."

A government source with knowledge about the mission said the chaotic scene at the Kabul airport means Canada and its allies are loading planes with any eligible refugee, regardless of their final destination.

The source has been granted anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the operation publicly.

WATCH | Retired general Rick Hillier on Canada's Afghan evacuation efforts

'Canada can do better': Retired general delivers damning assessment of Afghan evacuation efforts

2 years ago
Duration 7:31
If the Canadian military isn't authorized to go outside the Kabul airport to help rescue vulnerable Afghans who are eligible to come to Canada, retired Canadian General Rick Hillier told Power & Politics that Canada "should be ashamed as a nation."

The government confirmed yesterday that Canadian soldiers had arrived on the ground in Kabul to assist the rescue mission, which has become increasingly urgent with the Taliban now in control of virtually all of Afghanistan except the airport in Kabul.

"Although the airport itself remains secure, the greater security situation surrounding it has proven to be tenuous and volatile," said the DND.

Canada has 'not shone greatly,' says former commander

Retired General Rick Hillier , the former commander of International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, said today that the Canadian military should be doing more to rescue its former Afghan allies before the mission collapses.

In an interview Friday on CBC's Power & Politics, Hillier said soldiers should be venturing outside the Kabul airport to find and assist people eligible for resettlement.

"If they're not doing that, then we should be ashamed as a nation," Hillier said. "It will be impossible for the vast majority of them to get to Kabul airport and get on a plane."

The military has not confirmed if it is sending troops into the hostile, Taliban-controlled territory outside the airport. The statement issued today said only that military personnel are working to "facilitate the entry of Canadian citizens and eligible Afghan nationals into the airport perimeter."

Hillier, who served as chief of the defence staff from 2005 to 2008, also blamed what he called "bureaucratic clumsiness" for hampering the mission.

"We have not shone greatly during this operation," he said.

Ottawa is using two military planes to shuttle Afghans who assisted the Canadian government and its allies out of the country.

Canada has said it will operate the rescue mission as long as the airport remains secure, although Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said yesterday that it will be "almost impossible" to rescue everyone who is eligible for the government's emergency resettlement program.

With files from Nick Boisvert