Two aircraft carrying diplomats, troops and Afghans fleeing the Taliban takeover of their country touched down late Monday night on Canadian soil as the world continues to reel amid the fall of Kabul.
A statement from Global Affairs Canada on Tuesday morning confirmed one flight landed in Toronto carrying Afghans who qualified to come to Canada under the government’s recently announced special immigration measures for former interpreters and embassy staff who helped Canadians on the ground.
The second flight landed in Ottawa and included returning staff from the Canadian embassy in Kabul, which has been evacuated as the Taliban insurgents seize control of the country.
It is not clear at this time how many Afghans were on the flight that landed in Toronto.
Thousands of desperate people have packed the Kabul airport in recent days hoping to escape the extremist Islamist group. American and Canadian soldiers are among the allied forces holding down the airport as part of an international race to evacuate citizens and refugees from the country.
The Department of National Defence confirmed that some of the Canadian troops in Afghanistan have now returned, “including elite operatives.”
“The flight was chartered,” the department said in a statement.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is running for re-election, faced questions from journalists on Monday about the actions being taken now to help the Afghans still stuck in Kabul, had initially dodged questions on whether he will recognize the regime.
“Right now our expectation and demand of the Taliban is that they permit, first of all, an end of violence and hostilities and restore order for those who want to leave Afghanistan,” said Trudeau, Liberal Party leader, on Monday.
“We need to see the Taliban step up and permit the evacuation of those who want to leave.”
On Tuesday though, he said the government has “no plans” to recognize the Taliban.
They are a recognized terrorist organization under Canadian law,” he said.
Trudeau said 807 Afghans who supported Canadians on the ground had been evacuated so far, and 500 of them have arrived in Canada for resettlement, but did not answer whether he plans to recognize the Taliban regime that has seized control of the country.
He said Canada “firmly condemns” the violence unfolding and is working with allies, including the U.K. and U.S., on planning for what comes next.
He added he has not ruled out using military resources to evacuate Afghans.
“We have military still in Afghanistan right now. We are staging out of Kuwait, including with military aircraft. We are looking at, very closely with our allies, what those next steps would be. And that is certainly something that we are looking at, that we haven’t ruled out,” he said.
Trudeau added there are still Canadian citizens and dual citizens who remain on the ground in Afghanistan, and that the government is working to track them “as much as possible in the chaos.”
News that evacuation flights will resume comes after one former Afghan interpreter who worked with Canadian troops told Global News he is hearing from some still trapped in Kabul that they are feeling “ashamed” to have helped Canada as they watch officials flee the chaos with so many still left behind.
Some Canadian military and special forces members have remained in Kabul as part of an allied effort to secure the airport, effectively the last remaining air bridge for international flights.
U.S. President Joe Biden said American troops are now in command of air traffic control at the airport and has warned any attempts to target Americans at the airport will be met with force.
The U.S. and Canada have each said they expect to take in roughly 20,000 Afghans for resettlement.