Most European troops exit Afghanistan quietly

Published July 1, 2021
An Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier walks inside the Italian Camp Arena military base after Italian forces left the camp in Guzara district of Herat province on June 30. — AFP
An Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier walks inside the Italian Camp Arena military base after Italian forces left the camp in Guzara district of Herat province on June 30. — AFP

BERLIN: Most European troops have already pulled out of Afghanistan, quietly withdrawing months before the US-led mission was officially expected to end part of an anticlimactic close to the forever war that risks leaving the country on the brink of civil war.

Germany and Italy declared their missions in Afghanistan over on Wednesday and Poland’s last troops returned home, bringing their deployments to a low-key end nearly 20 years after the first Western soldiers were deployed there.

Announcements from several countries analysed show that a majority of European troops has now left with little ceremony a stark contrast to the dramatic and public show of force and unity when Nato allies lined up to back the US invasion to rid the country of Al Qaeda after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In the ensuing decades, the war went from one mission to another. Former US President George W. Bush’s administration shied away from nation-building and the United Nations advocated a light footprint. But with the passing years, Nato and US troops took on greater roles developing Afghanistan’s National Security and Defence Forces and training police. At the war’s peak, the US and Nato military numbers surpassed 150,000.

Nato agreed in April to withdraw its roughly 7,000 non-American forces from Afghanistan to match US President Joe Biden’s decision to pull all American troops from the country, starting May 1.

Biden set a Sept 11 deadline for the withdrawal of US troops. But more recently, American officials have said that pullout would most likely be completed by July 4 and many allies have moved to wrap up their own presence by then as well.

Nato declined to give an update Wednesday on how many nations still have troops in its Resolute Support mission. But an analysis of 19 governments’ own announcements shows that more than 4,800 of the non-American forces have left.

The US has refused to give troop figures, but when Biden announced the final pullout, between 2,500 and 3,500 troops were deployed. The US has also refused to give a clear date for their final withdrawal.

As of February, a total of some 832,000 American troops had served in Afghanistan. About 25,100 Defence Department civilians had also served there.

Germany publicly announced the end of its nearly 20-year deployment in a statement and a series of tweets from the defence minister late on Tuesday evening, shortly after the last plane carrying its troops had left Afghan airspace.

Three transport aircraft landed at the Wunstorf air base in northern Germany on Wednesday afternoon. The troops, wearing masks, lined up on the tarmac for a brief ceremony, but the military dispensed with a bigger reception because of the coronavirus pandemic.

We have worked long and hard to stand here today, said Brig Gen Ansgar Meyer, the last commander of the German contingent. As your commander, I can say for you: Mission accomplished. You have fulfilled your task.

But the top American general in Afghanistan gave a sobering assessment on Tuesday, warning about the recent rapid loss of districts to the Taliban and cautioning that the country could descend into civil war.

Published in Dawn, July 1st, 2021

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