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Official: Canada sending special forces to close Afghan embassy in Kabul

TORONTO — Canadian special forces will deploy to Afghanistan where Canadian embassy staff in Kabul will be evacuated before closing, a source familiar with the plan told The Associated Press.

TORONTO — Canadian special forces will deploy to Afghanistan where Canadian embassy staff in Kabul will be evacuated before closing, a source familiar with the plan told The Associated Press.

The official, who was not authorized to talk publicly about the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity, did not say how many special forces would be sent.

Just weeks before the U.S. is scheduled to end its war in Afghanistan, the Biden administration is also rushing 3,000 fresh troops to the Kabul airport to help with a partial evacuation of the U.S. Embassy.

The moves highlight the stunning speed of a Taliban takeover of much of the country, including their capture on Thursday of Kandahar, the second-largest city and the birthplace of the Taliban movement.

Britain also said Thursday that it will send around 600 troops to Afghanistan to help U.K. nationals leave the country amid growing concerns about the security situation. And Danish lawmakers have agreed to evacuate 45 Afghan citizens who worked for Denmark’s government in Afghanistan and to offer them residency in the European country for two years.

Some 40,000 Canadian troops were deployed in Afghanistan over 13 years as part of the NATO mission before pulling out in 2014.

The first planeload of Afghan refugees who supported the Canadian military mission in Afghanistan arrived in Canada earlier this month. The Canadian government last month announced a special program to urgently resettle Afghans deemed to have been “integral” to the Canadian Armed Forces’ mission, including interpreters, cooks, drivers, cleaners, construction workers, security guards and embassy staff, as well as members of their families.

Retired corporal Tim Laidler, who has been one of many Canadian veterans working to help former interpreters and their families come to Canada, expressed concern Thursday about the news the embassy may be closed.

Laidler, who now heads the Institute for Veterans Education and Transition at the University of British Columbia, said he is aware of hundreds of Afghans trapped in Kabul who worked with Canada and have applied for help and are desperate to escape the Taliban.

Laidler expressed concern that Canada would "cut and run" from Afghanistan, leaving the interpreters and their families behind.

“There needs to be reassurance from IRCC (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada) that they will continue to process the paperwork,” Laidler told The Canadian Press.

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino’s office did not immediately respond to questions on Thursday evening.

Ciara Trudeau, a spokeswoman for Global Affairs Canada, said that Canada is monitoring the evolving situation in Afghanistan on a continuous basis but for security reasons can't comment on specific operational matters of its missions abroad.

"Minister (Marc) Garneau is in close coordination with our allies and with our ambassador to Afghanistan," she said in an email late Thursday.

"Canada continues to work with our international partners on contingency planning, including for the ongoing work on the implementation of the Special Immigration Measures program.

"The security of the Canadian Embassy and the safety of our personnel in Kabul is our top priority."

The U.S. State Department said in a release that U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke separately Thursday with Garneau, the German foreign minister and NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg to discuss the United States’ plans to reduce its civilian footprint in Kabul in light of the evolving security situation.

The State Department said in a readout of the discussions that Blinken emphasized that the United States remains committed to maintaining a strong diplomatic and security relationship with the Government of Afghanistan and working with allies.

"In each call, Secretary Blinken and his counterpart exchanged views on the security environment in Afghanistan, the immediate urgency of curbing violence, and ongoing diplomatic efforts," said the readout. "Secretary Blinken affirmed that the United States remained committed to supporting a political solution to the conflict."

The Canadian government has said more than 800 Afghans who supported the mission have been resettled in Canada over the past decade but acknowledges that many more remain in Afghanistan.

The Taliban, who ruled the country from 1996 until U.S. forces invaded after the 9/11 attacks, have taken 12 of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals as part of a weeklong sweep that has given them effective control of about two-thirds of the country.

The seizure of Kandahar and Herat marks the biggest prizes yet for the Taliban. Canada's former military mission was based in Kandahar.

-- With files from The Canadian Press

Rob Gillies, The Associated Press