Canada will remain in Afghanistan beyond the Aug. 31 date set for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country to help evacuate more Canadians and eligible Afghans if the security situation permits, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today.
The prime minister made the comments after attending a virtual meeting of G7 leaders called by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier in the day.
“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,” Trudeau said.
“The commitment by our fellow G7 nations is clear: we’re all going to work together to save as many people as possible.”
After the meeting, U.S. President Joe Biden’s press secretary, Jen Psaki, issued a statement saying that the U.S. government is “on pace” to finish its withdrawal by a self-imposed deadline of Aug. 31 but that the mission will only end “based on the achievement of our objectives.”
“Completion of the mission by August 31st depends on continued co-ordination with the Taliban, including continued access for evacuees to the airport. In addition, the president has asked the Pentagon and the State Department for contingency plans to adjust the timeline should that become necessary,” the statement said.
A PMO spokesman later clarified that the prospect of Canadian Forces’ remaining in Kabul beyond Aug. 31 is contingent 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.
On Monday, a government official speaking on background confirmed for the first time that Canada’s special forces are working outside the security of the Kabul airport to identify and bring Canadian citizens and eligible Afghan nationals and their families through the security gates to waiting aircraft.
The federal government said Tuesday that since Canadian military flights out of Afghanistan resumed Aug. 19, about 1,355 people, including allied service members, have been flown out of Kabul.
Canada has struck an air-bridge agreement with other allied countries that allows people bound for Canada to catch rides out of Kabul on allied aircraft while Canada steps up in the same fashion.
Watch: Trudeau says allies remain committed to getting people out of Afghanistan, despite looming deadline:
Speaking after the meeting, Johnson said that since Aug. 14 the British military has flown 57 flights out of Kabul, evacuating more than 9,000 U.K. citizens and eligible Afghans and said British forces would continue their efforts “right up until the last moment we can.”
Johnson also dismissed the notion that British troops will be redeployed to the country to restore order long enough to ensure that everyone who wants to is able to escape the Taliban.
“The point that Joe Biden is making is: it’s very difficult for Western powers to try to impose that sort of order on a country if a country is unwilling to do it, itself,” Johnson said.
G7 will apply ‘leverage’ to Taliban, says Johnson
Both Trudeau and Johnson said the G7 agreed that all members need to make it clear to the Taliban that they expect the regime in Afghanistan to allow anyone who wants to leave the country to leave unimpeded.
“We also emphasized how important it was to pass the message to the Taliban that not only should they be letting people have access to the airport in the coming days, they need to make sure that in the coming weeks, even beyond the deadline, people are able to leave Afghanistan,” Trudeau said.
As the Taliban were taking Kabul on Aug. 15, Trudeau dismissed the notion that Canada would recognize the Taliban as a legitimate government, but Tuesday he seemed to be shifting that position.
“The international community has a few very clear expectations and demands of the Taliban if they want to be even engaged with constructively and positively, whether it’s financially, whether it’s in terms of food security, whether it’s plenty of things that are needed in order to set up a functional society that they have just taken by violence,” he said.
Johnson said the Taliban must agree to “guarantee, right the way through August the 31st and beyond, safe passage for those who want to come out.
“Now, [some Taliban] will say that they don’t accept that, and some of them, I hope, will see the sense of that [request], because the G7 has very considerable leverage; economic, diplomatic and political.”
Trudeau’s change in language toward recognizing the Taliban as a legitimate government appears to have come after the G7 meeting Tuesday, at which Johnson said the body settled on a road map for how it would deal with the new regime in Kabul.
“The legitimacy of any future government depends on the approach it now takes to uphold its international obligations and commitments to ensure a stable Afghanistan,” said a statement released by the G7 after the meeting.