National Newswatch

OTTAWA — On the eve of a special G7 leaders' meeting, Canadian officials disclosed Monday the military's special forces are operating outside the closed confines of Kabul's chaotic airport to get people on flights out of Afghanistan.

The officials would not provide more details, citing the sensitivity of the security situation, but they said they are having success in getting more Afghans to safety.

They said a Canadian C-17 Globemaster carried 436 people out of Kabul airport on Sunday night, including Canadian citizens and family members, as well as Afghan nationals accepted for resettlement by Canada and its allies — up from the 121 airlifted a day earlier.

"We are having success getting folks into HKIA in significant numbers, which has been a significant improvement over the last few days," said one official, using the acronym for Hamid Karzai International Airport.

"We made the decision to disclose that Canada's special operations forces have been and continue to work outside the confines of HKIA."

The official said the special forces personnel "are working relentlessly" to bring as many Canadian citizens and eligible Afghans through security gates to waiting aircraft.

The disclosure came during a briefing for journalists on Monday that was given by three senior federal officials, on the condition they not be named as per the agreements for such background briefings.

Desperate Afghans who previously worked as interpreters for Western military forces and news agencies, among others, are in hiding, fearing for the safety of themselves and their families after Afghanistan fell to the Taliban last week and exposed them to violent reprisals.

"Our forces on the ground have all the necessary authorizations to do what they feel is necessary to save as many people as quickly as possible," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Monday in Halifax during a federal election campaign appearance.

The crisis in Afghanistan has featured prominently during the first week of the federal campaign. Trudeau said he will also be taking part in a virtual G7 meeting Tuesday that will be looking at ways to address the crisis.

"When we have our G7 leaders meeting shortly, we will certainly be talking about what more we can do and must do," Trudeau said.

That includes looking at what else can be done to help other vulnerable Afghans, including women and children, as well as human-rights activists, politicians, journalists and others who are now in the Taliban's crosshairs for their democracy-building efforts of the last two decades.

Trudeau said that while the government's focus is on helping Canadian citizens and Afghans and their families with direct connections to Canada — a group that includes interpreters and other workers — he is interested in looking at ways to cast a wider net.

“We are also very interested in activists and human rights leaders, journalists and people who over the past many years have fought and delivered improvements for people in Afghanistan. We know those people need to be brought to safety. And we, alongside our allies, will be doing everything we can for all the categories,” Trudeau said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is convening the meeting of G7 leaders, saying urgent talks are necessary. There is widespread speculation that U.S. President Joe Biden will face calls from his allies to extend the Aug. 31 deadline he has set to withdraw U.S. troops from Kabul airport.

British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has called that deadline, set by the U.S. in a deal with the Taliban, a mistake and has urged the Americans to extend the mission for several days. The Taliban has warned that any extension would be viewed as crossing a "red line" and would provoke a reaction.

A senior British official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on the record, said the G7 talks would encompass "immediate co-operation on the evacuation effort from Kabul and longer-term planning on future engagement in Afghanistan, as well as the humanitarian response and support for refugees."

The official said Johnson would be looking for commitments from his fellow leaders on ways to protect the rights of women and minorities, and to work toward Afghanistan not becoming a terrorist haven once more.

Canadian officials did not immediately have a breakdown of the number of women and children who have been brought out of Afghanistan, including on the latest flight.

The head of the Canadian branch of the organization Save The Children called Monday on world leaders to do more to streamline their processes for evacuating young people from Afghanistan.

"Though Canada has already announced a resettlement program, it is important that evacuation efforts are not hampered due to bureaucratic red tape as the situation demands urgent action," said Danny Glenwright, the organization's president.

Canadian officials said that about 300 Afghans have finished their quarantine and will eventually be resettled in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.

In all, officials said Canada has evacuated about 1,700 people on 13 flights, which includes four that resumed as of this past Thursday after Canada and its allies managed to secure the Kabul airport after the Taliban took power the previous weekend. 

That also includes dozens of personnel from the 12 other countries participating in the American-led air bridge. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 23, 2021.

— with files from The Associated Press

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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