Trudeau mum on U.S. deadline to leave Kabul by Aug. 31 as he meets with G7 leaders

By Mike Blanchfield

OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was playing his cards close to his chest on whether he wants the G7 to push for an extension of the American military commitment to Afghanistan.

Trudeau joined a special virtual meeting of the G7 leaders Tuesday on the crisis in Afghanistan and President Joe Biden is expected to face calls from some fellow leaders to extend the U.S. military commitment to the country beyond his Aug. 31 deadline.

All Trudeau would say before the meeting was that he was looking forward to a discussion on how to protect as many people as possible.

“Obviously, the conversation will continue with our allies,” the Liberal party leader said when asked about the issue at an early morning federal campaign stop in Hamilton.

“I’m looking forward to talking about what more we can do and whether and how we can make sure we’re protecting as many people as possible.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is hosting the summit, and France’s Emmanuel Macron are 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.

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.

Johnson has 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 dealing with humanitarian crisis for refugees.

“We also have to talk about how, as an international community we’re holding the Taliban to account, we’re ensuring that we’re protecting people who won’t be able to escape the Taliban in the coming week or weeks,” said Trudeau.

Trudeau also 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 obviously need to continue to be there to support the Afghan people, which we will. We need to invest even more, as we resettle, as we bring Afghan refugees to Canada,” he added.

“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 recently fallen Afghan government.

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. The money goes through an international trust fund run by the World Bank and through the direct funding of projects by Canadian non-governmental organizations, their international counterparts and other multilateral organizations.