Canada halts Afghanistan evacuations as deadline looms

International

In this Aug. 21, 2021, photo provided by the U.S. Marines, U.S. Marines with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Crisis Response – Central Command, provide assistance at an evacuation control checkpoint during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Staff Sgt. Victor Mancilla/U.S. Marine Corps via AP)

TORONTO (AP) — Canada has ended evacuations from Kabul’s airport, a Canadian general said Thursday, as the clock ticks down on dramatic Western efforts to help people flee the Taliban takeover ahead of a full American withdrawal.

General Wayne Eyre, the country’s acting Chief of Defense Staff, said the last evacuation plane has left and the vast majority of Canadian personnel are gone. Eyre said allied countries have to leave before the Americans can wrap up their mission. Canadian military flights evacuated about 3,700 people.

“The reality on the ground is the perimeter of the airport is closed. The Taliban have tightened the noose. It’s very, very difficult for anybody to get through at this point,” Eyre said.

“At this point all of our allies have ceased personnel recovery operations, from my understanding.”

U.S. President Joe Biden has said he is sticking to his Aug. 31 deadline for completing the U.S. pullout as the Taliban insisted he must, ramping up pressure on the already risky airlift from Kabul to get out as many people as possible in the coming days.

“We stayed in Afghanistan for as long as we could. We were amongst the last to cease evacuation operations,” Eyre said. “We wish we could have stayed longer and rescued everyone who was so desperate to leave. That we could not is truly heartbreaking, but the circumstances on the ground rapidly deteriorated.”

Canada and European allies pressed for more time but lost the argument, and as a practical matter were forced to end their evacuations a couple of days before the last American troops leave.

Eyre said the feeling of helplessness and guilt that arises from having to leave people behind can be overwhelming.

“I have received emails from people that I worked with during my tours in Afghanistan who are desperate to get out or get their families out. Their pleas and the photos of the families in terrible situations that accompany many of them are heart wrenching. They tear at our souls,” he said.

The Taliban wrested back control of Afghanistan nearly 20 years after they were ousted in a U.S.-led invasion following the 9/11 attacks. Their return to power has pushed many Afghans to flee, fearing reprisals from the fighters or a return to the brutal rule they imposed when they last ran the country.

Canada was one many countries taking part in the evacuation of people facing Taliban reprisals from Kabul’s airport. Over 1,000 refugees are in Canada now. Canada has plans to resettle 20,000 Afghan refugees.

“The final Canadian evacuation flight left Kabul,” Canadian Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino tweeted. “The majority are Afghan refugees in search of a new life in Canada. Over a thousand have arrived, and we’ll welcome more in the days and weeks to come.”

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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