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Canada halts Afghanistan evacuations as deadline looms

Aug. 26, 2021 - 21:51 By AP
Afghan refugees who supported Canada's mission in Afghanistan arrive in Canada, at Toronto Pearson International Airport on Tuesday. (Yonhap-Reuters)
TORONTO (AP) -- Canada has ended evacuations from Kabul's airport, a Canadian general said Thursday, as the clock ticks down on dramatic Western efforts to help people flee the Taliban takeover ahead of a full American withdrawal.

General Wayne Eyre, the country's acting chief of Defense Staff, said the vast majority of Canadian personnel left the airport and all the other countries have to leave before the Americans can wrap up their mission. Canadian military flights evacuated about 3,700 people. He said the last evacuation flight has left.

``We stayed in Afghanistan for as long as we could. We were amongst the last to cease evacuation operations. We wish we could have stayed longer and rescued everyone who was so desperate to leave. That we could not is truly heartbreaking, but the circumstances on the ground rapidly deteriorated,'' Eyre said.

US President Joe Biden has said he is sticking to his Aug. 31 deadline for completing the US pullout as the Taliban insisted he must, ramping up pressure on the already risky airlift from Kabul to get out as many people as possible in the coming days.

Canada and European allies pressed for more time but lost the argument, and as a practical matter were forced to end their evacuations a couple of days before the last American troops leave.

The Taliban wrested back control of Afghanistan nearly 20 years after they were ousted in a US-led invasion following the 9/11 attacks. Their return to power has pushed many Afghans to flee, fearing reprisals from the fighters or a return to the brutal rule they imposed when they last ran the country.

Canada was one many countries taking part in the evacuation of people facing Taliban reprisals from Kabul's airport. Over 1,000 refugees are in Canada now. Canada has plans to resettle 20,000 Afghan refugees.