While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered Tuesday to keep Canadian military personnel in Afghanistan after Aug. 31, his fellow G7 leaders were not able to persuade President Joe Biden to extend the American deadline for withdrawal.
Trudeau, emerging from a virtual summit with his G7 counterparts, said Canada would keep special forces operatives and aircrews at the airport in Kabul past the end of the month. The leaders met to discuss the crisis and the re-emergence of the Taliban as the country’s rulers.
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.
A readout from the White House made clear they had failed to persuade Biden — at least for now — to open the door to staying longer.
“During a meeting this morning with the G7 leaders, the president conveyed that our mission in Kabul will end based on the achievement of our objectives. He confirmed we are currently on pace to finish by Aug. 31,” the statement said.
“The completion of the mission by Aug. 31 depends on continued co-ordination with the Taliban, including continued access for evacuees to the airport,” it continued. “In addition, the president has asked the Pentagon and the State Department for contingency plans to adjust the timeline should that become necessary.”
During a media briefing Tuesday that had been delayed for several hours, White House press secretary Jen Psaki refused to say explicitly whether Biden was open to extending the deadline, but pointed repeatedly to the conditions noted in the statement.
“He asked for contingency plans,” Psaki said, “but believes we continue to be on track to accomplish our mission.”
The president himself emerged later Tuesday, five hours behind schedule, to drive home the point that the U.S., the G7, NATO, the European Union and the United Nations had all agreed to continue pulling in the same direction.
“We will stand united in our approach to the Taliban,” Biden said.
“We agreed the legitimacy of any future government depends on the approach it now takes to uphold international obligations, including to prevent Afghanistan from being used as a base for terrorism. And we agreed that none of us are going to take the Taliban’s word for it. We will judge them by their actions.”
Biden also told his fellow leaders that each day on ground added to the risk from troops posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant — Khorasan Province, the terrorist organization active in Central Asia. The Taliban has also said that the deadline is firm and hinted at consequences if it is not met.
Johnson 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 deal with the humanitarian crisis for refugees. The leaders’ communique did not address the issue of an extension.
But they called on the Taliban to respect human rights, especially those of women and minorities, and allow unfettered humanitarian access.
“Afghanistan must never again become a safe haven for terrorism, nor a source of terrorist attacks,” it said.
After the meeting, Trudeau said Canada would be prepared to stay longer, if that were possible, beyond Aug. 31.
“The commitment by our fellow G7 nations is clear: we’re all going to work together to save as many people as possible,” Trudeau said as he was about to board a federal election campaign bus in Hamilton.
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. A Canadian military plane departed Kabul with over 500 evacuees on board on Monday, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said in a tweet.
“Our commitment to Afghanistan doesn’t end when this current phase, this current deadline comes. We will continue to put pressure on the Taliban to allow people to leave the country,” Trudeau said after the meeting.
“We will continue to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to get them to respect human rights and give opportunities for all Afghans.”
The G7 said it was throwing its support behind the UN’s “unfettered humanitarian” access to help the Afghan people.
The United Nations World Food Program warned Tuesday that its food supply for Afghanistan was due to run out by October and that it needed more international support to keep that from happening.
Mary-Ellen McGroarty, the WFP’s Afghanistan director, said her organization hasn’t stopped delivering food, and doing drought assessments. So far this year, it has helped 5.5 million Afghans, including 400,000 who have been internally displaced from their homes.
“The week of 15 August alone — one of the most dramatic in Afghanistan’s recent history — WFP managed to reach 80,000 people with life-saving food and nutrient-dense foods to treat and prevent malnutrition,” McGroarty said in an email.
Before the meeting, Trudeau 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 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.”
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.
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 Afghan government, which has since fallen.
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.
—Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press