August 17, 2021 By Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — Flights from Afghanistan to Canada have resumed as two more planes have arrived carrying diplomats and special forces troops as well as an unknown number of refugees fleeing the Taliban.
The flights come after order was restored to the Kabul airport following a chaotic two days that saw thousands of desperate Afghans rushing onto the tarmac on Sunday as the Taliban took control of the city and country.
The Department of National Defence said one plane carrying diplomats and “elite operatives” arrived in Ottawa late Monday night as part of the government’s evacuation of all Canadian personnel from Afghanistan.
A second plane carrying Afghans who previously helped Canada during its 20-year involvement in the country as well as their families arrived in Toronto, Defence Department spokeswoman Jessica Lamirande said in an email.
That represents the fifth such flight from Afghanistan since the government announced in late July that it would rescue former interpreters, drivers, cleaners and others now facing the threat of Taliban arrest or worse for having helped Canada.
There was no immediate word on how many such Afghans were on board the flight, though hundreds remain trapped in the country, with reports of families hiding in safe houses or stuck in parks and other places with nowhere to go.
Canadian veterans and opposition parties have accused the Liberal government of having been slow to help the former interpreters in recent months despite knowing the U.S. was withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan since the spring.
The speed of the Taliban’s takeover nonetheless caught many by surprise, and the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Afghanistan has cast a long shadow over the federal election campaign launched on Sunday.
Justin Trudeau revealed for the first time on Monday that 807 Afghans have been evacuated under a special immigration program along with 34 Canadian diplomats and Canadian Armed Forces personnel.
His government had previously declined to say how many refugees it had assisted, citing security concerns.
The government last week announced it would resettle 20,000 refugees who have already fled Afghanistan, which is a separate commitment than its promise to help Afghans who previously helped Canada.
Andrew Rusk, the founder of a national advocacy campaign to bring interpreters and local staff to Canada, has said his group is aware of at least 2,000 individuals still in Afghanistan waiting to be evacuated.
Kabul airport plunges into chaos as Taliban patrols capital
Asked on Monday why his government did not act sooner, Trudeau insisted it began working on evacuations in the spring.
The Canadian government previously resettled more than 800 interpreters and support staff over the past decade.