Canada pledges to resettle Afghans, citing rising Taliban threat

Immigration minister says “several thousand” Afghan interpreters and others would be arriving in Canada soon.

Athletes from Afghanistan are participating in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics even as their nation faces Taliban attacks and many who helped Western forces seek evacuation [Mike Blake/Reuters]

Canada announced on Friday it would resettle Afghan interpreters, embassy staff and their families amid a “dynamic and deteriorating” situation in Afghanistan, saying they had become targets for the Taliban.

“Canada is here to support those who supported us,” said Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino, adding that “several thousand” people would be eligible and the first arrivals would be landing in Canada very shortly.

Canada plans to relocate Afghan interpreters and others as soon as possible in light of the rapidly concluding US military drawdown and a Taliban offensive.

“We appreciate that there is a need to act quickly and decisively but that we must also do so safely given the very dynamic and deteriorating situation,” Mendicino told a televised news conference in Ottawa.

Mendicino did not give a specific number of people who would be admitted or say when exactly they would arrive.

“Many Afghan citizens put themselves at risk to assist Canada … Now they face even greater threats from the Taliban,” he said.

The situation in Afghanistan is evolving rapidly. On Friday, the United States condemned the Taliban’s targeted attacks on former interpreters and other Afghans as well as the destruction of infrastructure, calling on the Taliban to prevent their forces from carrying out the actions.

“We vehemently condemn the targeted attacks, the destruction of vital infrastructure, as well as other attacks against the people of Afghanistan,” State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter said at a regular news briefing.

President Joe Biden was to speak by telephone with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Friday, a White House spokesman said.

The Taliban have demanded in peace negotiations being held in Doha, Qatar that Ghani resign from the government. Biden, who met with Ghani at the White House, supports the leadership of the Western-backed government in Kabul, Jen Psaki, Biden’s spokesman said.

Reeling from a surge in battlefield losses, Afghanistan’s military is overhauling its war strategy against the Taliban to concentrate forces around the most critical areas like Kabul and other cities, border crossings and vital infrastructure, Afghan and US officials have told the Reuters news service.

The Afghan military and police are ceding territory to the Taliban out of necessity as over-stretched Afghan troops try to prevent the loss of provincial capitals, which could deeply fracture the country.

US Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the strategy involves “giving up district centres” to protect larger population centres, like the capital Kabul, giving the Taliban an appearance of “strategic momentum”.

“There’s a possibility of a complete Taliban takeover or a possibility of any number of other scenarios,” Milley told a Pentagon media conference on July 21, adding that “the endgame” is uncertain.

Afghan men smoke a ‘hookah’ water pipe along a river on the outskirts of Jalalabad. Fears are growing they will be banned again if the hardline Islamist Taliban return to power [Noorullah Shirzadi/AFP]

Canadian officials are identifying eligible Afghans, focusing on those who worked for Canada as interpreters or who provided “critical support”, embassy staff and their families, Mendicino said.

Canada’s combat mission in Afghanistan ended 10 years ago, after which the country resettled about 800 Afghans who had worked for Canada as interpreters or in other roles.

Many Afghans who worked with Canada and other NATO countries fear reprisals from the Taliban as US and NATO forces depart.

“The pace of the Taliban’s advances over the course of the past month is troubling,” Foreign Minister Marc Garneau told the news conference.

The US has announced plans to evacuate 2,500 Afghan workers and their families to an army base in Virginia and officials are developing plans to relocate thousands more to US bases overseas and potentially to third countries.

Meanwhile, the US Congress is advancing legislation to increase the number of special visas available, ease bureaucratic hurdles and provide funding for the Afghan relocation programme.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies