Canada could have just 24 to 48 hours to get planes in and out of Kabul as part of the Afghanistan evacuation effort, according to a government source.
The source — who has knowledge of the mission but wasn’t authorized to speak publicly — said only a limited number of flights remain for Canada’s military and they’re running against the clock.
With the Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan coming up fast, Canadian Forces have to start winding down the evacuation, said the source.
During a media briefing this morning, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan would not comment on how much time is left. He said things are moving quickly on the ground.
“The situation is changing literally by the hour. I’ll be getting a detailed briefing shortly on the withdrawal plan but one thing I can assure you, we will continue to bring out as many Afghans as possible,” he told reporters.
Tens of thousands of Afghans fearing persecution under the Taliban, which swept to power in recent days, have rushed to Kabul’s airport hoping to escape the country.
Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said that as of Aug. 24, Canada had airlifted more than 2,700 people out of Kabul, including Afghan refugees, Canadian citizens, permanent residents and other foreign nationals.
Canada has struck an air-bridge agreement with other countries that allows people bound for Canada to catch rides out of Kabul on allied aircraft while Canada steps up in the same fashion.
Mendicino said today that close to 1,000 Afghans have arrived in Canada and over 300 have now finished quarantine.
“We are now going to be moving into the next phase of this operation, which is to provide support to Afghans after the coalition withdraws,” he said.
Earlier this week, the government said Canada’s special forces are working outside the security zone of the Kabul airport to identify and bring Canadian citizens and eligible Afghan nationals and their families through the security gates to waiting aircraft.
But many advocacy groups and families on the ground have reported problems with reaching officials.
Just yesterday, following a virtual G7 meeting, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada will remain in Afghanistan beyond the Aug. 31 date to help evacuate more Canadians and eligible Afghans — as long as the security situation permits.
“I emphasized that Canada is ready to stay beyond the 31st deadline, if it’s at all possible, because we want to save as many people as possible and Canadians are ready to work to try and do that,” he said.
A PMO spokesperson later clarified that the prospect of Canadian Forces’ remaining in Kabul beyond the end of the month depends on the extension of the U.S. military presence, and that Canada would not remain in Afghanistan after the U.S. pulled out its troops.