At an official update at 8 a.m. ET, Gen. Wayne Eyre said Canadian personnel left Kabul earlier in the morning. Roughly 3,700 people were evacuated by Canada during its operation, though that number will be confirmed in the later days, Eyre said.
Canada’s departure comes five days before American soldiers leave on Aug. 31, after spending two decades in the region as part of the War on Terror.
As the deadline nears, the security situation around the international airport has worsened.
Reports of chaos erupted on Thursday outside the Kabul airport as the Pentagon confirmed an explosion that resulted in a number of casualties. At least one other explosion also occurred at or close to the Baron Hotel, which is near the airport.
In a tweet, Canadian Armed Forces said all of its members are safe and accounted for.
A Global Affairs Canada spokesperson told Global News it has no reports of Canadians being injured.
At the briefing, Eyre said he’s received “pleas” from Afghans desperate to escape the violence of the Taliban.
“They tear at our souls,” he said.
“They have witnessed horrific things,” Eyre continued, in expressing concerns for military members who have seen “desperation that broke our hearts.”
“The feeling of helplessness and guilt from having to leave people behind can be overwhelming.”
Eyre called the end of efforts “heartbreaking” and said he wished Canada could have stayed longer.
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An official from Global Affairs Canada indicated some Canadians were left behind and encouraged them to reach out. They did not provide firm numbers on how many remain in the country.
At the same time, officials said it is now up to individuals to try to keep themselves and their families safe.
“Canada will begin to focus on the next phase of our operation,” said Daniel Mills of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
“In the coming weeks and months we will work with our international partners, including the United Nations, on our humanitarian work.”
He expressed “deepest regrets” to those left behind.
Global Affairs Canada said on its website the embassy in Afghanistan has suspended its operations, and its ability to provide consular assistance and other support is “extremely limited.”
At a campaign stop Thursday, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau reinforced Canada’s promise to help Afghans.
“Our engagement with Afghanistan is not done,” he said.
“This particular moment is done and it’s heartbreaking to see. But there’s much more to do and Canada will continue to be there.”
President Joe Biden has refused to extend the Aug. 31 deadline, forcing Canada and other allies to pull out before they do.
When asked if he’s angry at the American’s decision, Eyre said every country makes their own decisions.
“We have to remember that the Taliban have the responsibility for this crisis … put the blame on them,” he said.
“There is no country in the world other than the U.S. with the capability to project force on the other side of the world … Canada does not have the capability to do this unilaterally, neither does any other country besides the U.S.”
David Perry, vice-president and senior analyst at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, previously told Global News he feels Canada can’t offer safety assurances to anyone wanting to leave the country after Aug. 31. He added they could to Canadian citizens perhaps, but that’s about it.
“If they’re Afghan nationals and they’re left there once we leave, I think it’s going to be extraordinarily difficult, probably impossible for Canada to make any realistic assurance of a safety guarantee,” Perry said.
He added Canada’s evacuation efforts after Aug. 31 will be limited.
“So I think the circumstances will be that if you can get yourself out, we will extend these provisions to help try and get you resettled,” Perry said. “But I think it’s looking very clear that we’re not going to have Canadian people on the ground being able to offer any kind of really substantive assistance in that type of effort.”
— with files from The Associated Press.