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'Fair enough': Garneau accepts criticism of Canada's evacuation efforts in Afghanistan


Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau acknowledged on Sunday public criticism towards the Canadian government on its evacuation operation in Afghanistan, saying that no one could predict how quickly the country would fall to the Taliban.

"In terms of the criticism of us starting too late -- fair enough, fair enough," Garneau told CTV’s Question Period. "Nobody anticipated the speed with which the Taliban would take over the country, including probably the Taliban themselves, and how quickly the Afghan National Army would either surrender or flee, but it happened."

Amid warnings from the Pentagon about Afghanistan's imminent collapse, Garneau said his office is still working to get Canadians and vulnerable Afghans out of the country despite Canada's evacuation operation being terminated on Thursday.

"What we are focused now is on moving forward because there are still many Canadians, there are permanent residents, and there are vulnerable Afghans that we want to get out of the country, and that is what we are focused on," he said.

"We accept the criticism, and we are moving forward with trying to deal with the situation."

Officials said on Friday that Canada has evacuated approximately 3,700 individuals, which includes 2,000 Afghans. Compared to other NATO countries, Canada sits behind Germany and Italy regarding the total number of refugees withdrawn by a member state.

With the Taliban having shut off access to the airport in Kabul, Garneau acknowledged that getting people out of the country will now be even more difficult. However, he said negotiations are underway between NATO countries and the Taliban to allow local allies to leave.

"We believe that the Taliban should seriously consider the advantages of having an open commercial airport, then that is a port of exit for people who wish to leave the country," he said. "Also, assurances that if they choose to leave through a neighbouring country that they will not be impeded at the border."

Asked if Canada was negotiating directly with the Taliban, which the federal government has labelled a terrorist organization, to re-open the airspace around Kabul, Garneau admitted current talks were being conducted through the U.S.

"We're talking to the Americans, who are talking directly to the Taliban," he said, "And of course we're part of the G7, we're part of the United Nations, we're part of the G20."

Canada's special immigration pathway remains open to Afghan nationals, and their families, who assisted the Canadian military during their mission in Afghanistan.

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said during a press conference on Friday that visas will remain valid among those who haven't yet fled and that the government continues to process "applications around the clock."

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Garneau said individuals still trapped in Afghanistan should "stay in place" at the moment to see how the situation unfolds, but if they can make it to a "third country" local Canadian diplomats may be able to provide further assistance.

With files from’s Sarah Turnbull in Ottawa


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