Canada has officially ceased its evacuation effort in Afghanistan, leaving a small team of military personnel for the final extraction of the forces on the ground.
The news was announced Thursday morning — shortly before an explosion near the Kabul airport.
It remains unclear how many Canadian citizens and permanent residents — as well as Afghan nationals looking to resettle in Canada — have been left behind.
Since the first arrivals in early August, Ottawa had flown a total of 3,700 people out of the Kabul airport, officials say.
The last-ditch effort ended all attempts by Canada and its allies to rescue their people and the local Afghans who worked with these forces and who are now being targeted by the Taliban in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal from the country.
“We stayed in Afghanistan for as long as we could. We were among the last to cease the evacuation operations. We wished we could have stayed longer and rescued everyone who was so desperate to leave,” Gen. Wayne Eyre said during a media briefing.
“That we could not is truly heartbreaking. But the circumstances on the ground rapidly deteriorated.”
The explosion Thursday took place outside the Kabul airport, where thousands of people have gathered to try to flee the country. The U.S. Pentagon confirmed the blast, with no immediate word on casualties.
Western nations had warned of a possible attack on the airport in the waning days of the massive evacuation efforts.
Canada’s immigration department had received a total of 2,500 applications, including 8,000 people, under a special Afghan immigration program.
About two thirds of those applications have been processed and approved, and the rest will continue to be finalized by immigration officials, said assistant deputy immigration minister Daniel Mills.
“We are not giving up,” Mills told reporters through the virtual briefing.
Cindy Termorshuizen, assistant deputy minister at Global Affairs Canada, said much remains unknown about the next days and weeks in Afghanistan.
“Both the political and the security situations in Afghanistan are very fluid. We do not know what the next government will look like, what it will be comprised of, and what its approach will be to the departure of foreign nationals or Afghan nationals,” she said.
“But we are working extremely closely with allies and other countries in the region to assess this and to explore options for continuing to support our Canadian citizens, permanent residents…and also other vulnerable Afghans.”
With files from The Canadian Press