Canada wraps up Afghanistan airlift operations

Published on Aug 26, 2021 08:13 PM IST

Acting chief of defence staff General Wayne Eyre said Canada had transported or facilitated the evacuation of roughly 3,700 Afghan evacuees.

Refugees from Afghanistan and Canadian citizens board a bus after being processed at Pearson Airport in Toronto, Canada. (AP)
Refugees from Afghanistan and Canadian citizens board a bus after being processed at Pearson Airport in Toronto, Canada. (AP)
ByAnirudh Bhattacharyya I Edited by Amit Chanda

Canada on Thursday announced completion of its evacuation mission in Afghanistan. That announcement was made by Canada’s acting chief of defence staff General Wayne Eyre, as he said that “over the last day” the operation had “ceased” and the “majority of personnel departed Hamid Karzai International Airport” in Kabul with a small contingent staying behind to assist allies.

On Tuesday, caretaker Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had said that Canada was “ready to stay” in Afghanistan beyond August 31 to rescue those seeking to leave. Trudeau’s statement came while speaking to reporters during a campaign stop following a G7 virtual summit.

Briefing reporters on Thursday morning, General Eyre said Canada had transported or facilitated the transport of roughly 3,700 Afghan evacuees. “We wish we could have stayed longer and rescued everyone who were so desperate to leave. That we could not is truly heartbreaking but the circumstances on the ground rapidly deteriorated,” he said, adding that this was “a crisis of the Taliban’s making”.

Canada announced an expansive plan to bring in 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan under a special immigration plan, but the actual figure has ended less than a fifth of the target.

The early departure from Kabul may have been predicated on the United States sticking to the August 31 withdrawal deadline from Afghanistan. Outgoing Canadian defence minister Harjit Sajjan told reporters on Wednesday that as “Americans draw down to meet their deadline, partner nations, including Canada, must draw down our troops, assets and aircraft ahead of the Americans”.

He said these “moves are necessary for the US to safely maintain control of the airport until they depart”.

Sajjan did not specify a date, but his cabinet colleague, Afghan-origin women and gender equality minister Maryam Monsef faced flak for issuing an appeal to the Taliban, describing them “our brothers” and calling upon them “to ensure the safe and secure passage of any individual in Afghanistan out of the country.”

Monsef, herself a refugee, clarified using the phrase “our brothers” was a “cultural reference” but was criticised for using such terminology. However, she asserted the Taliban was a “terrorist group” and asked the new Kabul regime “to immediately cease the violence, the femicide, the genocide, the rapes, the lootings and to return immediately to the peace negotiation table in an inclusive and meaningful way.”

The situation unfolding in Afghanistan is increasingly a factor as Federal elections on September 20 approach. A poll by the agency Leger for the outlet National Post found that 65% of those sampled following developments “closely” and 54% of the opinion the government should have acted “quicker”.

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