Canada is working with the United States and other allies to evacuate Canadians and former Afghan employees from Kabul, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau concedes the situation is perilous now that Taliban forces have taken control of the Afghanistan capital.
Two Canadian Armed Forces Hercules transport aircraft are at the U.S. airbase in Kuwait. One of them is scheduled to land in Kabul on Tuesday. A third aircraft, a heavy-lift Globemaster, is en route to Kuwait.
“We are working very closely with the U.S., the U.K. and other allies to establish ways in which we are going to be able to get more and more people out of Afghanistan in the coming weeks, but we have to recognize the situation is extremely fluid and exceedingly dangerous,” Mr. Trudeau told a news conference Monday.
Three sources with knowledge of the Afghanistan planning said the Canadian military had presented a series of possible scenarios to the government, from a deliberate and organized evacuation to a worst-case scenario, such as a total collapse of the Afghan government. The government, like its counterpart in the U.S., expected there would be more time to undertake evacuations and was caught off guard by the Taliban’s swift takeover. The Globe is not identifying the sources, because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.
Planning started in early May on a resettlement program for Afghans who have been employed by Canadian diplomats or the Canadian military. The government chartered aircraft from Turkey and deployed Canadian military aircraft. Once it became apparent in early August that the Taliban were conquering large swaths of Afghanistan, the sources said, Canada began flying people out of the country.
“People in country and around the world have been dismayed by the speed at which things happened,” Mr. Trudeau said when asked why Canada did not move faster to get people out of Afghanistan, especially after U.S. President Joe Biden announced in April that he was pulling U.S. forces out of the country.
Speaking at a campaign stop in Quebec, Mr. Trudeau said that, as of Monday, at least 807 Afghans have been evacuated this month, and 500 have arrived in Canada.
Mr. Trudeau said he was given a detailed briefing on the situation in Afghanistan before he began a day of campaigning for the Sept. 20 election.
Canadian embassy officials have been flown out of Kabul, while Canadian special forces troops remain in Afghanistan to help secure the city’s airport and assist with evacuation. The priorities right now are Canadians and dual citizens working with non-governmental organizations and the United Nations, Mr. Trudeau said.
Also being prioritized are those Afghan interpreters and fixers whose applications for resettlement have been processed. Mr. Trudeau said the processing is now being done remotely because of the danger of having Canadian diplomatic personnel in Kabul.
There are about 800 former Canadian interpreters still living in Kabul. Among the other people still hoping to get out are about 100 Nepalese Gurkha guards who had been contracted to protect the Canadian embassy over the past 15 years. One of the sources said the Gurkhas are at the Kabul airport awaiting a Canadian flight to safety.
Mr. Trudeau would not say whether Canada would recognize the Taliban as the new rulers of Afghanistan, but he urged the Islamic fundamentalist leadership to allow people to leave the country.
Canada has promised to take in 20,000 Afghans. Many of them are now in refugee camps.
The Kabul airport has become a far more dangerous place to land an aircraft now that the Taliban have taken the city.
Airport authorities in Kabul on Monday issued a NOTAM – notice to airmen – warning approaching aircraft to arrive “with maximum fuel” because of the “unknown and limited refueling capacity imposed by current events” in the region. The notice was issued on behalf of the U.S. military’s combat logistics agency.
“There is no more ground crew or fuel. It’s all gone,” retired Canadian major-general David Fraser said. He once commanded more than 2,000 NATO coalition troops in Afghanistan.
Mr. Fraser said Canada’s withdrawal from Kabul has likely left the Canadian government without sufficient on-the-ground information to make its own decisions about landing aircraft.
American troops currently control the airport, and Mr. Fraser said Canada is likely working with the United States to figure out when it will be possible to land a transport plane.
As of Monday, the Canadian military’s CC-177 heavy-lift Globemaster aircraft was heading for Kuwait, which is about 2,000 kilometres by air from Kabul. And U.S. Major Maria Juliano, who is tracking aircraft into Kabul, told The Globe that one of the two Canadian Armed Forced Hercules transport planes is scheduled to land Tuesday in the Afghan capital at 6:30 p.m. local time.
The evacuation is being handled by Canadian Joint Operations Command in Ottawa, which is co-ordinating with U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida and U.S. Camp Arifjan in Kuwait.
Mr. Fraser said those left behind are not only former translators but also former drivers and cooks who worked for Canada, as well as their families. They helped the Canadian military and government during Canada’s 13-year deployment in Afghanistan, which ended in 2014.
Mr. Fraser said he’s glad that Canada pulled together a plan to bring some Afghans to Canada, but he marvels that he and other retired generals had to write a letter requesting action earlier this summer.
“Why is it that three retired guys have to come up with a letter and ask for assistance?” he said.
He said he suspects the Canadian government is asking the United States government to ferry Afghans on behalf of Canada.
“That would be the conversation I would be having with the Americans,” he said.
“The United States seems to be the only country in the world with the resources and the will to get people out. God bless them for doing that.”
Mr. Fraser said he’s telling Afghans to “go find the Americans to get out.”
He said the Trudeau government has an obligation to do more, despite the federal election campaign. “You want Canada back on the world stage? The world is listening.”
In Ottawa, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole criticized the delays in dealing with the Afghan crisis. He said he would not recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he was heartbroken by the scenes of chaos at the Kabul airport and urged the government to do everything possible to get people out of the country.
“This is a really dire situation and we have a responsibility to do everything we can to help those allies, the people that have risked their lives to support Canadians and Canadian Forces,” he said.
ROBERT FIFE, OTTAWA BUREAU CHIEF
STEVEN CHASE, SENIOR PARLIAMENTARY REPORTER OTTAWA
The Globe and Mail, August 16, 2021