The Canadian military mission in Kabul has ended with the vast majority of Canadian personnel departing the airport on Thursday morning, but some Canadians and their families remain trapped in Afghanistan, government officials said Thursday.
Gen. Wayne Eyre. the acting chief of the defence staff, said the Canadians were among the last to leave, and that military personnel are taking the withdrawal personally and many will feel guilty that they had to leave people behind.
He said Canada evacuated roughly 3,700 people from Afghanistan, which fell to the Taliban earlier this month.
Eyre said the airport was under constant threat of attack and Canada and its allies acted admirably.
“The conditions our armed forces members working under were unlike anything we’ve seen in decades, even during our previous mission in Afghanistan,” Eyre said in an emotional briefing informed by his own service in Canada’s military mission years ago.
“They’ve witnessed horrific things. They’ve faced incredible dangers. And the feeling of helplessness and guilt that arises from having to leave people behind can be overwhelming.”
The federal government is still trying to determine how many Canadians may still be left in Afghanistan.
Cindy Termorshuizen, the assistant deputy minister at Global Affairs Canada in charge of consular, security and emergency management, said hundreds of Canadians and permanent residents and their families made it out of Kabul on Thursday night.
She said there were large numbers of Canadians on Canadian and allied aircraft and that her department is combing through the numbers and aircraft manifests to “gain a clearer picture” of how many may have been left behind.
The government is aware of people who have ended up in third countries, and Canada’s entire network of foreign embassies and high commissions is on alert to track them down, she said.
“We recognize that today’s announcement will be distressing news for those who are still in Afghanistan and wish to leave,” said Termorshuizen.
“For our fellow citizens still in Afghanistan, if you need to move to a safer location please do so with great caution. Use your judgement to decide the best time and the safest means to do so. Assess the risk carefully as you take the necessary steps to ensure your security and that of your family.”
Eyre said Canadian personnel will have to reflect on whether all the efforts expended in Afghanistan were worth it, but that Canadians made a difference in thousands of lives.
“We wish we could have stayed longer and rescued everyone who was so desperate to leave,” said Eyre.
“That we could not is truly heartbreaking. But the circumstances on the ground rapidly deteriorated. Now this is an extraordinary humanitarian crisis. But make no mistake: this is a crisis of the Taliban’s making.”
— Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press
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