‘We wish we could have saved everyone’: Canadian mission in Kabul has ended

Canada’s acting Chief of the Defence Staff says the Armed Forces wishes it could have saved everyone as evacuation efforts in Afghanistan have ceased just days before the U.S. was set to leave the country.

OTTAWA — The vast majority of remaining Canadian personnel have been evacuated from the Taliban-controlled city of Kabul, just hours before two explosions left more than a dozen people dead near the airport.

Canada’s acting Chief of the Defence Staff says the Armed Forces wishes it could have saved everyone, as evacuation efforts in Afghanistan have ceased days before the U.S. was set to leave the country.

“We stayed in Afghanistan as long as we could,” said Lieutenant-General Wayne Eyre.

The final flight left the airport around 9 p.m. PT with hundreds on board, although the military did not provide details on who was on that flight, nor exactly how many people were on it.

They did also did not say how many people were left behind.

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“We wish we could have saved everyone,” Eyre said Thursday morning on the end to personal recovery operations.

“The conditions our Armed Forces were working under are unlike anything we’ve seen in decades.”

More than 3,700 Canadians, permanent residents, and Afghans were safely rescued in recent weeks.

Eyre says Canadian forces could not stay any longer, or do more than they were able to, as the speed in which the terrorist organization gained power took all allies by surprise.

He says the Taliban has tightened its noose in the country, and had closed the perimeter around the airport. The Armed Forces was aware of a planned attack Wednesday, leading to more urgency.

Explosions rock Kabul

Just hours after Canada announced the military mission had officially ended, the first suicide attack happened just outside the airport. The second explosion took place a short time later near a hotel.

No Canadian Armed Forces members were hurt or killed in the first blast, but the U.S. says that American personnel were among those in the area and it’s believed there are casualties among them.

After the final flight Wednesday, a small liaison team remained on the ground to help with coordination with allies for the next day or two, while conditions permit, the Armed Forces said before the blasts.

Read more: Death toll mounts connected to two explosions in Kabul

It comes after weeks of turmoil in the country, after the Taliban gained control, and many Canadians called on the government to take more action to help their loved ones.

“The feeling of guilt in having to leave people behind is overwhelming,” Eyre said.

He says he is concerned about the wellness of troops involved who had to witness the despair of thousands of people in the country, as well as the hundreds who tried to flee and failed.

Describing the images as heart wrenching, he says they could only direct people left behind to information resources.

“We are human, and these horrifying stories will stay with us, in most cases, for life.”

Canada’s mission in the country was, “one of the largest, most complex, and dangerous in modern history,” Eyre said. “Operations like this take a toll on our people.”

A photo from a Canadian Air Forces flight carrying more than 500 Canadians and Afghans earlier this week. (Courtesy Harjit Sajjan)

The next chapter

In the coming weeks and months, Canada will put a focus on its humanitarian work and Immigration Canada has confirmed that visa applications are still being processed. Canada has pledged to help 20,000 Afghans settle in this country. Many of them have not arrived yet, and are currently based in several cities as they await transportation assistance from Canada and the U.S.

Global Affairs Canada says officials are devastated that many Canadians and Afghans were left behind.

“We recognize that today’s announcement will be distressing news for those who are still in Afghanistan and wish to leave,” Global Affairs Canada Cindy Termorschulze said.

“For our fellow citizens in Afghanistan, if you need to move to a safer location please do so with great caution. Use your judgement to decide the best time and the safest means to do so. Assess the risk carefully as you take the necessary steps to ensure your security and that of your family.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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