Canada will help as many Canadians and Afghans as possible escape Kabul, federal ministers said today, but warned that the security situation on the ground is bad and worsening.
This position was taken by several ministers during a public briefing today to detail the federal government’s efforts to evacuate vulnerable people from Afghanistan now that the Taliban have practically taken control of the country.
“Our objective is clear: it is to evacuate as many vulnerable Canadians and Afghans as possible for as long as the security situation allows, whether in Afghanistan or in a third country for those who manage to leave on their own. means ”, declared the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Marc Garneau said during the briefing.
The remarks suggest the window to get people out of Kabul is narrowing and echo remarks made by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier this week.
“Unless the Taliban dramatically change their position – which is what the international community and Canada are working on – it will be very difficult to get a lot of people out,” Trudeau told reporters Thursday as he campaigned in Victoria.
“We definitely will, but getting as many people out, as many as we want, are going to be next to impossible in the weeks to come.”
The crisis in Afghanistan will be a key issue under discussion when G7 leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, meet virtually on Tuesday next week.
There have been numerous reports of shootings and shoving among the crowds outside the airport gates. The airport is essentially the last place in Afghanistan considered safe from the Taliban.
The government has identified around 6,000 people eligible for resettlement who are currently in Afghanistan and said it has processed about half of those requests.
The government says it intends 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 arrive in Canada
When asked if Canada would consider increasing its quota of Afghan refugees, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said he was keeping “an open mind” about the number of people who would help out. from Kabul and Canada.
Garneau warned those seeking to flee Afghanistan on a military flight from Kabul that they should not risk the perilous journey to the airport in the hope of boarding a flight Canadian unless contacted by Canadian officials telling them they had a seat on a plane.
Watch: Mendicino says the Canadian government will exhaust “every effort” to get vulnerable Afghans to resettle in Canada on flights out of the country.
“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 road leading to the airport and all people passing through the city. [face danger]. We recommend that you do not go to the airport unless we have contacted you for a flight. “
Mendicino said Canada has already organized 12 military flights from Kabul carrying more than 1,100 people to safety, and he pledged that the federal government will continue operations as long as the situation on the ground allows.
Sajjan will not comment on the movements of the forces
“We are working tirelessly to take advantage of these numbers. Flights have resumed, our armed forces are back on the ground in close coordination with our coalition partners and boarding passengers as quickly and safely as possible,” said Mendicino.
“We are working closely with the United States and other allies to achieve our common goal of evacuating as many people as possible from Afghanistan,” he added.
Sajjan said later that day he would speak with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to discuss the evacuation.
Mendicino said Canada has entered into an “airlift deal” with allies in the region that will allow people bound for Canada to escape Afghanistan on allied-owned aircraft, while the Canada returns the favor by transporting people to allied countries on its planes.
When asked if Canadian troops on the ground in Afghanistan were allowed to move past the Kabul airport wire to identify and transport people safely to the waiting planes, the Minister of Defense Defense Harjit Sajjan did not provide details.
“For operational security reasons, for obvious reasons, I cannot disclose exactly what our troops are doing. One thing I can say: they have all the flexibility to make all the appropriate decisions so that they can act. “Sajjan said.
Watch: Defense Minister talks about the challenge of getting Afghans to cross the perimeter of Kabul airport:
The defense minister also said he could not discuss possible or envisaged actions the Canadian military on the ground might take because the situation on the ground is changing so rapidly that the military does not know when it will need to. change tactics.
He also explained that flights to and from Kabul airport are very short time missions.
He said planes that land there have a brief window they can stay on the tarmac before they need to take off and that Canadian soldiers on the ground make the decisions about when planes should leave, regardless of the number of people. on board. plank.
Elections derail rescue efforts, say Singh and O’Toole
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said in Toronto that “maybe the fact that Justin Trudeau called an election may have impacted his ability to plan the release or evacuation of our allies in Afghanistan.”
Singh said he was worried about Afghans risking their lives to help Canadian soldiers on the battlefield and anything that can be done to bring these people to Canada safely should be done.
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole told reporters in New Westminster, British Columbia, that he also believes the call of a federal election has hampered Trudeau’s ability to cope with the crisis.
“It is clear that the federal government is in election mode and should be focusing on COVID, 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 wasted five years, he wasted the last six months when veterans groups, NGOs were telling Mr. Trudeau and his team that ‘There was going to be chaos, that there was going to be a risk in Afghanistan, “he added.
O’Toole said Canada must do all it can to complete the evacuation.
Watch: ‘End the War’: Former Afghan Ambassador Discusses Taliban Regime: