Canada scales up military evacuations in Kabul amid Taliban takeover in Afghanistan

OTTAWA – More than 2,700 people have been airlifted out of Kabul by Canadian forces in recent weeks and additional efforts are underway, according to the federal government.

A military aircraft with more than 500 evacuees aboard flew out of the Afghan capital on Wednesday, marking the largest Canadian evacuation flight so far, according Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan. It was just one of many military planes that took off as evacuees lined up on the tarmac, desperate to flee the country amid a Taliban takeover.

“The security situation is becoming more dangerous with each passing hour. Crowds in the airport have grown. As a result, gates have had to remain closed for safety and to allow those inside the airport perimeter to be evacuated,” he said Wednesday.

Many who wanted to get on a flight remained outside the perimeter, some standing knee-deep in sewage and waving identity documents at Western soldiers in hopes of being allowed to go beyond the barbed wire fencing.

Sajjan also painted a dire picture of what’s been happening in Afghanistan, adding, “people are exhausted outside, in despair and afraid.”

“And not surprisingly, violence has become even more common. The suffering is exactly why we are pushing our people and our aircraft to our limits to make sure we can get as many people out of Afghanistan as humanly possible,” he told reporters.

Images of people packed into crowded airplanes have been widely shared online, showing just how serious the situation is for many people.

There have also been the harrowing images and video of Afghans running after planes taking off from Kabul’s airport, many clinging onto the side of such aircraft despite them moving at high speeds.

“Every day we see images and hear heart wrenching stories of Afghans desperate to leave, to escape the violence and retribution that many now fear will come,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs Marc Garneau. “Our hearts go out to them.”

He notes many have been making “perilous journeys” to the Kabul airport, “carrying little more than the hope of simply getting on an airplane. They need our help.”

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Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino says Canada is keeping boots on the ground and planes in the air for as long as possible. He notes Canada has “significantly accelerated the speed with which” it’s been able to get people out of Afghanistan.

However, he notes there are significant challenges.

“We know that despite the fact that we have been issuing visas and letters to help ensure safe passage that the Taliban controls checkpoints,” Mendicino explained. “We reiterate once more our clear expectation that those wishing to leave Afghanistan be permitted to do so safely.”

Canada is stressing it will continue to support Afghans wishing to resettle in this country, even after the Aug. 31 deadline passes for the withdrawal of coalition forces.

Sajjan says Canada would have like to have stayed beyond that deadline.

“But as you know, this decision has been made by the Americans, and as we work very closely with our allies, especially with the U.S. … who control the air bridge and now will be making the detailed plans for the safe withdrawal. And we will try to evacuate as many people until that time comes,” he explained. “The situation is changing literally by the hour.”

Mendicino says support for Afghanistan will “continue and will increase as we transition to the next phase of the operation.”

“Let me be clear: we will continue to support Afghans wishing to resettle in Canada after the military evacuation concludes. We will remain in communication with those who have applied under our immigration programs,” he said. “We want to assure everyone who has applied and has been approved that your visa will remain valid after the coalition withdraws.”

As of Wednesday morning, Mendicino says about two thirds of applications have been processed.

-With files from The Canadian Press

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