O’Toole accuses Trudeau of ‘doing nothing’ to prepare for Afghanistan evacuations

By Michael Talbot

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau acknowledged on Monday that like many, he was “surprised” by the speed of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has another word for it — unprepared.

On the first full day of campaigning to govern Canada, much of the focus was thousands of kilometres away in Afghanistan, where the dreaded Taliban swiftly seized power after a seemingly futile 20-year war.

Images from airports in Kabul showed chaotic crowds desperately trying to board planes that would usher them from the uncertainty and oppression of Taliban rule.

Trudeau has vowed to resettle 20,000 Afghans, including the Afghan interpreters who aided the Canadian military.

At a stop in Quebec on Monday, Trudeau said just 500 have arrived in Canada so far.

The fate of thousands of others remains increasingly precarious.

O’Toole said it didn’t have to be that way.

“To see people clamouring onto aircraft, running after aircraft, it shows the turmoil there,” he said in Ottawa. “The Trudeau government knew that was coming. They had six months at least (knowing) that the Biden administration was pulling out, and the Trudeau government did nothing even to secure folks that had worked at the embassy.”

“Anybody that is at risk from the Taliban, because they were supporting our efforts there, we need to get them back, and Mr. Trudeau has squandered six years and the last six months when we knew the pullout was coming.”

When asked by reporters if his government was prepared, Trudeau said efforts have been underway for months to aid evacuations, but the unpredictability of the situation has proven troublesome.

“We started working in the spring on repatriation and evacuating individuals,” he said. “I think people … around the world have been dismayed by the speed at which things have happened and quite frankly surprised with the speed at which things have happened on the ground. We have been there, we’ve made commitments for supporting up to 20,000 Afghans, including direct evacuation of thousands.”

Trudeau said there are a number of Canadian citizens and dual Canadian-Afghan citizens still “on the ground” in Afghanistan.

“We are working closely with (them) and tracking as much as is possible in the chaos right now and very much prioritizing the evacuation of them, if it is at all possible.”

Trudeau added that it’s crucial that the airspaces are secured, but it can’t be guaranteed.

“If we can see the airfield properly secured we will be there alongside our partners to help evacuate Afghans, but the situation right now is extremely fluid and difficult.

“We are very hopeful that in the coming weeks we are going to be able to re-establish the air bridge which will bring more people to safety. That depends very much on the security situation on the ground.”

When pressed further if his government acted quickly enough, he added: “There were programs to bring over Afghan interpreters many years ago. We continue to be a country that welcomes people from vulnerable parts of the world from situations of danger and conflict.”

Despite the harrowing situation, O’Toole would not call the 20-year mission in Afghanistan a waste.

“It is always worth it to stand up for the dignity of other people. It is always worth it to stand by our values at home and abroad.”

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