Operation Aegis: Technical Briefing - August 26, 2021

Good morning everyone,

I would like to begin today by acknowledging that I am speaking from the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishnaabeg People.

I will be providing you with an update on Operation Aegis, the Canadian Armed Forces’ contribution to the Government of Canada’s effort to evacuate Afghan nationals and Canadian citizens from Kabul, Afghanistan.

As Minister Sajjan pointed out yesterday, the United States has confirmed that its operations in Kabul will end on August 31.

Canada and our multinational airlift partners must end our operations and repatriate our personnel, resources and aircraft before the Americans can complete the withdrawal of their mission, which includes the much-needed defence of the airport.

Over the last day, our evacuation operations have ceased and the majority of personnel departed Hamid Karzai International Airport approximately 8 hours ago.

A small contingent remains on the ground to support our air bridge allies for the retrograde of allied forces while conditions permit.

Before the airport was closed due to the Taliban, Canada had flown 9 flights out of Kabul, bringing over 800 people back to Canada and supported the evacuation of the Canadian mission.

On August 19th, once the airport had been re-secured by our Allies, CAF flights to and from the airport resumed.

Since you were briefed by Ministers yesterday, the CAF brought in and secured transit for another approximately 1000 Afghans destined for Canada. Half of which flew out on a Canadian C-17 – while the remainder departed on U.S. aircraft.

Thanks to the heroic efforts of our armed forces, our allies, our Global Affairs and IRCC colleagues, and the bravery of Afghans, Canada successfully transported, or facilitated the transport of approximately 3,700 evacuees. This number will be confirmed in the coming days.

These evacuees include Canadian citizens and permanent residents, their family members, citizens of allied countries, persons with a lasting connection to Canada and afghan nationals at risk accepted for resettlement in Canada or by our allies.

In a conversation last night, the Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs told me that this is the largest military air evacuation in history. The CAF contributed to these efforts by facilitating the movement of equipment, humanitarian supplies and most importantly people.

For our part, the depth of our relationship with the US, the UK and other allies made all of this possible.

We stayed in Afghanistan as long as we could. We were amongst the last to cease evacuation operations.

We wish we could have stayed longer and rescued everyone who was so desperate to leave.

That we could not is truly heartbreaking.

But the circumstances on the ground rapidly deteriorated.

This is an extraordinary humanitarian crisis – but make no mistake. This is a crisis of the Taliban’s making.

I want to be clear: In the face of tremendous adversity, what our Armed Forces has accomplished through Operation Aegis is nothing short of extraordinary.

Our strategic lift capabilities allowed us to rapidly deploy our Forces to the other side of the world into a country where we have not had a significant military presence for 7 years.

We also deployed CAF capabilities, currently in Kuwait as part of Joint Task Force-Impact, to support the mission.

Every person, aircraft and piece of equipment involved in the operation was pushed to the limit toward a single goal: evacuating as many people as humanly possible.

Our military worked tirelessly for days and days.

They gave their own food and water to the hungry and thirsty Afghans who were waiting at the airport.

And our Special Forces operators have been working outside the perimeter of the airport to help get as many vulnerable people out as possible.

In fact, our Special Forces began working outside the perimeter very early in the operation and were among the last of our close allies to return inside the secure area.

At the outset, we knew this operation could not be micromanaged from Ottawa. So we pushed authorities and required resources down to enable maximum flexibility, and our troops made full use of them.

The conditions our armed forces were working under were unlike anything we’ve seen in decades – even during our previous mission in Afghanistan.

The threats around the airport were significant and dynamic.

Throughout the operation we received word of multiple imminent attacks, which necessitated changes to our plans on the ground and demanded maximum adaptability and agility on the part of our people.

Non-Combatant Evacuation Operations are inherently complex. But all told, this operation has been one of the largest, most complex, and dangerous in modern history.

An Operation like this takes a tremendous toll on our people.

We have all followed with horror the events that have taken place in Afghanistan in recent weeks.

It was an emotional time. Old wounds have reopened for some, while others are experiencing new ones.

So as Acting Chief of the Defence Staff, my greatest concern now is for the wellness of the troops involved.

They have witnessed horrific things. Faced incredible dangers.

And the feeling of helplessness and guilt that arises from having to leave people behind can be overwhelming.

The same can be said for those of us working in Canada.

Like so many CAF members and veterans… Like so many of you in the media, and like so many others, I have received emails from people I worked with during my tours in Afghanistan who are desperate to get out.

Their pleas – and the photos of families in terrible situations that accompanied many of them – are heart-wrenching. They tear at our souls.

And we could do nothing but direct these poor people to official sources of information, hoping that they would find their way to safety while our troops on the ground did everything they could.

No matter what jobs we do.

No matter what training we go through.

No matter what military experience we have.

We are human, and these horrifying stories will stay with us – in many cases, for life.

So caring for our people will be a priority as this Operation winds up.

Understanding that burden, I ask our members to focus on the thousands of lives they saved.

As they come back, they will be debriefed. They will be given the time they need to decompress. We will support them, ensure their well-being, and make sure they know how proud we are of them.

Their experiences have not been made easier by the fact that this Operation was carried out under intense – and often misinformed – public scrutiny and criticism.

For obvious reasons, operational details of what we were doing had to be kept quiet.

So into that silence some people interjected their own narratives, without any real knowledge of the facts, adding to the confusion.

But the truth is very different. Even though Kabul airport has left us heartbreaking stories, in the days to come you will also hear the stories of heroism of the people who took part in the operation, because those stories must be heard.

You’ll hear the stories about how the dedication, determination, and compassion – how the heroism of our Canadian troops saved and changed thousands of lives.

You’ll hear about the CAF members who cared for a new mother and the baby she’d given birth to approximately 15 hours before boarding a flight, making sure she and the infant made it to safety.

You will hear about the little Afghan girl who followed a military policewoman to board one of our flights. She asked her father: How can a woman be a police officer?

He explained that in Canada, women can be police officers. Looking up at the soldier, the girl said she would like to be a police officer when she was grew up.

You’ll hear about the little Afghan boy, who so admired one of our soldiers that he wouldn’t leave his side as the soldier carried out his work during an evacuation flight…

And how that soldier cared for the boy, who was about the same age as his own son waiting for him to return safely home to Canada.

The events of recent weeks have, not surprisingly, caused many to ask of our past involvement in Afghanistan: Was it worth it?

My personal answer is time will tell. We made a made a difference in thousands of lives while we were there. And every one of those lives counts as a win. We’ll see if that is enough.

Finally, I want to thank our CAF families, the families of our fallen, and the many veterans that have been following these event closely, many of whom have been advocating for a better life for Afghan nationals. Thank you for your strength, compassion and resolve during these difficult times.

Canadians can be immensely proud of the work our team has been doing under incredibly dangerous conditions in recent weeks.

I know I am, and I thank them for their courage, ingenuity, and peerless professionalism.

Thank you.

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