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Canada ‘ready to stay’ in Afghanistan past Aug. 31 deadline set by U.S.: Trudeau

Click to play video: 'Canada willing to stay in Afghanistan past Aug. 31 deadline: Trudeau' Canada willing to stay in Afghanistan past Aug. 31 deadline: Trudeau
WATCH: Canada willing to stay in Afghanistan past Aug. 31 deadline - Trudeau – Aug 24, 2021

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada is prepared to keep its military personnel in Afghanistan after an Aug. 31 deadline set by the Americans for the withdrawal of their troops.

Trudeau made the announcement after meeting today in a virtual summit with fellow G7 leaders who were convening to discuss the crisis and the re-emergence of the Taliban as the country’s rulers.

“Canada is ready to stay beyond the Aug. 31 deadline if at all possible. We want to save as many people as possible,” he said following the meeting.

Going into the meeting, Trudeau had played his cards close to his chest on whether he wanted the G7 to push for an extension of the American military commitment to Afghanistan.

READ MORE: Canadian military flight evacuates 500 people from Kabul as Taliban hardens deadline

U.S. President Joe Biden had been expected to face calls from some fellow leaders in the special virtual G7 meeting to extend the U.S. military commitment to the country beyond his Aug. 31 deadline.

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All Trudeau would say before the meeting was that he was looking forward to a discussion on how to protect as many people as possible.

“Obviously, the conversation will continue with our allies,” the Liberal party leader said when asked about the issue at an early morning federal campaign stop in Hamilton.

“I’m looking forward to talking about what more we can do and whether and how we can make sure we’re protecting as many people as possible.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who hosted the summit, and France’s Emmanuel Macron were among those calling for an extension in order to more fully evacuate all foreign nationals and vulnerable Afghans who helped the Americans and the NATO allies before the country’s recent fall to the Taliban.

Canada is one of a dozen allied countries taking part in the evacuation of people facing Taliban reprisals from Kabul’s chaotic airport, which American-led forces have secured for the time being.

Johnson has called the “urgent” summit of G7 leaders to discuss the evacuation crisis and plot longer-term engagement with Afghanistan’s new Taliban leaders, as well as dealing with humanitarian crisis for refugees.

“We also have to talk about how, as an international community we’re holding the Taliban to account, we’re ensuring that we’re protecting people who won’t be able to escape the Taliban in the coming week or weeks,” said Trudeau.

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Trudeau also said the return of the Taliban would have to prompt a broader rethinking of Canada’s aid spending in Afghanistan.

“That is absolutely something we’re looking at right now, obviously, with the Taliban in control of the country. Our regular aid, investments and agencies need to be looked at carefully to make sure we are not supporting indirectly, the Taliban,” Trudeau said.

“We obviously need to continue to be there to support the Afghan people, which we will. We need to invest even more, as we resettle, as we bring Afghan refugees to Canada,” he added.

“We will be there for greater financial commitments because that’s what Canadians expect, for us to continue to fight for a better Afghanistan and continue to be there for Afghans fleeing for a better life.”

Click to play video: 'Warnings from U.S. embassy to stay clear of Kabul airport amid Taliban threats' Warnings from U.S. embassy to stay clear of Kabul airport amid Taliban threats
Warnings from U.S. embassy to stay clear of Kabul airport amid Taliban threats – Aug 21, 2021

In January, a federal review gave a mixed grade on the effectiveness of the close to $1 billion in development assistance that Canada funnelled into Afghanistan in the six years following the complete withdrawal of the country’s military forces in 2014.

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The review also found that Global Affairs Canada was not adapting to Afghanistan’s changing needs as the Taliban began gobbling up territory between 2017 and 2020 from the recently fallen Afghan government.

In November, Canada made a further three-year, $270-million aid commitment to Afghanistan.

All of Canada’s aid spending has been channelled through international organizations and has not been given directly to any Afghan government. The money goes through an international trust fund run by the World Bank and through the direct funding of projects by Canadian non-governmental organizations, their international counterparts and other multilateral organizations.

Click to play video: 'Afghan-Canadian pleads for help evacuating family' Afghan-Canadian pleads for help evacuating family
Afghan-Canadian pleads for help evacuating family – Aug 24, 2021

Western forces at Kabul airport were working frantically on Tuesday to get people out of Afghanistan before the Aug. 31 deadline.

Widespread chaos punctuated by sporadic violence has gripped Kabul’s airport, with Western troops and Afghan security guards driving back crowds, following the Taliban’s takeover of the Afghan capital on Aug. 15.

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Countries that have evacuated some 58,700 people over the past 10 days were trying to meet the deadline agreed earlier with the Taliban for the withdrawal of foreign forces, a NATO diplomat told Reuters.

“Every foreign force member is working at a war-footing pace to meet the deadline,” said the official, who declined to be identified.

Read more: Taliban takeover in Afghanistan opens door for al-Qaida resurgence, experts say

A Taliban official said on Monday an extension would not be granted, though he said foreign forces had not sought one. Washington said negotiations were continuing.

CIA Director William Burns met Taliban leader Abdul Ghani Baradar in Kabul on Monday, the Washington Post reported, citing unnamed U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Reuters could not immediately verify the story.

Britain’s defense minister, Ben Wallace, told Sky News he was doubtful there would be a deadline extension.

Read more: His mom is stuck in Kabul. He wants Canada to do more: ‘I’m out of options’

But German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Germany was working with the United States and Britain to ensure the NATO partners can fly civilians out after the deadline.

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“Even if the deadline is Aug. 31 or is extended by a few days, it will not be enough to evacuate those we want to evacuate and those that the United States wants to evacuate,” Maas said in an interview with Bild newspaper.

“That’s why we are working with the United States and Britain to ensure that once the military evacuation is completed it is still possible to fly civilians out of Kabul airport.”

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Kremlin was interested in serving as a middleman in resolving the crisis along with China, the United States and Pakistan.

At the same time, he said, Russia opposes the idea of allowing Afghan refugees to enter the ex-Soviet region of Central Asia or having United States troops deployed there.

“If you think that any country in Central Asia or elsewhere is interested in becoming a target so that the Americans could fulfill their initiatives, I really doubt anyone needs that,” Lavrov said during a visit to Hungary.

RED LINE

Many Afghans fear reprisals and a return to a harsh version of Islamic law that the Taliban enforced when in power from 1996 to 2001, in particular the repression of women and freedom of speech.

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The top U.N. human rights official, Michelle Bachelet, said she had received credible reports of serious violations committed by the Taliban, including summary execution of civilians and restrictions on women and protests against their rule.

“A fundamental red line will be the Taliban’s treatment of women and girls,” she told an emergency session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Click to play video: 'Afghan-Canadian on humanitarian crisis in former homeland: ‘They don’t have a voice anymore’' Afghan-Canadian on humanitarian crisis in former homeland: ‘They don’t have a voice anymore’
Afghan-Canadian on humanitarian crisis in former homeland: ‘They don’t have a voice anymore’ – Aug 23, 2021

An Afghan diplomat from the U.S.-backed government told the forum that millions of people feared for their lives amid reports of door-to-door searches while China’s U.N. envoy said the U.S. army and its partners should be held accountable for rights violations they committed in Afghanistan.

The G7 leaders could discuss taking a united stand on the question of whether to recognize a Taliban government, or alternatively renew sanctions to pressure the Islamist militant movement to comply with pledges to respect women’s rights and international relations.

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“The G7 leaders will agree to coordinate on if, or when, to recognize the Taliban,” said one European diplomat. “And they will commit to continue to work closely together.”

Leaders of the Taliban, who have sought to show a more moderate face since capturing Kabul, have begun talks on forming a government that have included discussions with some old enemies from past governments, including a former president, Hamid Karzai.

Read more: ‘Sold out to terrorists’: Afghan filmmaker watches Taliban takeover in horror

The Pajhwok news agency reported that Taliban officials had been appointed to various posts including a governor of Kabul, acting interior and finance ministers and intelligence chief. A Taliban spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Recognition of a Taliban government by other countries would have important consequences, like allowing the Taliban access to foreign aid that previous Afghan governments have depended upon.

Biden has faced widespread criticism over the Aug. 31 withdrawal, which was initiated by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, under a deal struck with the Taliban, and his opinion poll ratings have slipped.

While Western countries have been trying to get people out, humanitarian agencies are struggling to get aid in.

The World Health Organization only has enough supplies in Afghanistan to last for a week, an agency official said.

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(With files from Reuters. Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Lincoln Feast, Robert Birsel; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Nick Macfie)

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