A military aircraft has evacuated 188 people out of Kabul on the first Canadian flight since the Taliban took control of the Afghan capital.
The CC-177 Globemaster III heavy-lift aircraft took off from Kabul late Thursday and landed in Kuwait Friday.
Jessica Lamirande, a spokesperson for the Department of National Defence, said the flight included 175 Afghans and 13 foreign nationals.
None, however, were destined for Canada.
Canada and allies are pooling evacuation flights and each is taking passengers earmarked for the other’s country because the instability on the ground in Kabul has made it necessary to fly out people as soon as possible. This approach, Ms. Lamirande said, aims to “fill aircraft rapidly, in order to maximize both the number of people evacuated and the number of planes that can land” at the Kabul airport.
“The Afghans [just] evacuated … have been accepted under the immigration programs of other nations and will be soon transferred into the care of our allies,” Ms. Lamirande said. “Other participating nations are, in turn, carrying Canadian citizens and Afghan nationals destined for Canada on their flights.”
Among the people who have now found a flight out of Kabul is Mohammad Qasim Popal, a Canadian citizen who went to Kabul on Aug. 3 to visit his ailing mother and his family, according to Diego Osorio, a Canadian supporter who has been helping Mr. Popal during this ordeal.
The Globemaster flight was the first for a Canadian plane since Aug. 15, the day Taliban fighters poured into Kabul.
“We have been working with our allies, particularly the U.S. and the U.K., on ensuring that we are effective as possible all together in bringing out as many Afghans as possible,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters Friday at a federal election campaign stop.
Canada has said it’s up to individuals to make it through Taliban checkpoints to the Kabul airport.
A contingent of Canadian soldiers landed in Kabul recently to help with the evacuation, having been flown in by an ally.
There are news reports that soldiers of other countries, including Britain and France, are leaving the relative safety of Kabul airport – guarded by 4,500 U.S. troops – to rescue evacuees who can’t make it past Taliban checkpoints.
Mr. Trudeau would not say Friday when asked if Canadian soldiers would venture outside the airport to help evacuees get inside. “I am not going to comment on operational matters for reasons of security,” he said.
The Canadian Globemaster flight carried 188 people but other countries with the same aircraft are managing to lift more. U.S. Globemasters have been able to carry an average of 400 passengers on their rescue flights.
The difference is Canada’s access to jet fuel.
A senior Canadian government official said the Canadian Globemasters have to carry more fuel because they do not have access to U.S. air-to-air refuelling, which is the reason why Canadian flights have fewer numbers of passengers. The armed forces also have to calculate the weight of the passengers and luggage on the evacuation flights, the official said.
The Globe and Mail is not identifying the official because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the rescue flights in and out of Kabul’s airport.
Another Canadian Globemaster was en route to Kabul Friday afternoon, according to Steffan Watkins, an Ottawa-based researcher who tracks ship and plane movements.
Canada and other countries are seeking to hasten evacuations from Afghanistan after reports of Taliban reprisals targeting people who had worked with U.S.-led forces or the previous, Western-backed government.
More than 18,000 people have been flown out since July, U.S. President Joe Biden said Friday, but Western governments are still facing criticism for not anticipating such a chaotic exodus or doing enough.
Thousands of desperate Afghans clutching papers, children and some belongings have thronged Kabul airport, where armed Taliban militants urged anyone without travel documents to go home. Twelve people have been killed in and around the airport since Sunday, NATO and Taliban officials said.
Canada is trying to get as many people out as possible before the window of opportunity closes. The United States has an Aug. 31 deadline to withdraw from the country, but Mr. Biden has said this could be extended.
The vetting of passengers is not taking place in Kabul; instead, it will be done in third-party countries.
After being flown to those countries, Afghans who once worked for Canada and their families will be subject to biometric identification to ensure they can prove their eligibility for resettlement in Canada, the government said.
Earlier in the week, Canada evacuated all its diplomats, including Ambassador Reid Sirrs, out of concern for their safety. This created difficulties for Afghans seeking special immigration visas, who had to submit their applications online.
Ambassadors and employees of the U.S., British and French embassies remained in Kabul to process visa applications and organize the evacuation of their nationals.
Canada has pledged to resettle as many as 21,000 Afghan refugees, including up to 6,000 support staff and family members.
As of Friday, Canada has evacuated roughly 1,000 Afghans from Kabul.
With a report from Reuters.
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