BERLIN – (AP) – Most European troops have already withdrawn from Afghanistan, quietly withdrawing months before the official end of the US-led mission – in a near “war failure” eternal ”which risks leaving the country on the brink of civil war.
Germany and Italy declared their missions in Afghanistan over on Wednesday and the last Polish troops returned home, ending their deployments almost 20 years after the first Western troops were deployed there.
Announcements from several countries analyzed by the Associated Press show that a majority of European troops have now left unceremoniously – in stark contrast to the dramatic and public display of strength and unity when NATO allies aligned to support the American invasion to rid the country. al-Qaida after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
In the decades that followed, the war shifted from one mission to another. The administration of former US President George W. Bush has moved away from nation-building, and the United Nations has advocated a light footprint. But over the years, NATO and United States troops have played a larger role in the development of the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces and in police training. At the height of the war, the military strength of the United States and NATO exceeded 150,000.
NATO agreed in April to withdraw its some 7,000 non-US forces from Afghanistan to match US President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw all US troops from the country, effective May 1.
Biden has set a September 11 deadline for the withdrawal of US troops. But more recently, U.S. officials have said the pullout will most likely be complete by July 4 – and many allies have also decided to enter into their own presence by then.
NATO declined to provide an update on Wednesday on the number of countries that still have troops in its Resolute Support mission. But an analysis of announcements from 19 governments shows that more than 4,800 non-US forces have left.
The United States declined to give troop figures, but when Biden announced the final withdrawal, between 2,500 and 3,500 troops were deployed. As of February, a total of some 832,000 US troops had served in Afghanistan, while about 25,100 civilians from the Department of Defense had also served there.
The United States has also refused to give a specific date for a final withdrawal.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday that the US withdrawal remained “within the deadline announced by the president (…) which is to withdraw our troops from Afghanistan, while retaining a diplomatic presence. in the field, by September “.
Germany announced the end of its nearly 20-year deployment in a statement and a series of defense minister tweets on Tuesday evening, shortly after the last plane carrying its troops left Afghan airspace.
Three transport planes landed on Wednesday afternoon at Wunstorf air base in northern Germany. The troops, wearing masks, lined up on the tarmac for a brief ceremony, but the military has waived a larger reception due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have worked long and hard to stay here today,” said the sergeant. General Ansgar Meyer, the last commander of the German contingent. “As a commander, I can say to you, ‘Mission accomplished.’ You have completed your task.
But the top US general in Afghanistan gave a sobering assessment on Tuesday, warning of the recent rapid loss of districts to the Taliban and warning that the country could slide into civil war.
The German withdrawal came amid a wave of withdrawals from European nations. The last Polish troops to depart were greeted Wednesday by Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak. Some 33,000 Polish troops have served in Afghanistan over the past 20 years.
The last Italian troops from the Italian base in Herat arrived at the military airport in Pisa on Tuesday evening. Italy officially declared its mission in Afghanistan over in a statement on Wednesday, with Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini paying tribute to the 53 Italians who died and the 723 injured over the past two decades.
Going forward, Guerini said Italy’s commitment to Afghanistan would remain, “starting with strengthening development cooperation and supporting Afghan institutions.”
The last Georgian troops returned home on Monday, while Romania brought back its remaining 140 troops on Saturday, when Norway also withdrew. Troops from Denmark, Estonia and the Netherlands also returned home last week. Spain withdrew its last troops on May 13, Sweden on May 25 and Belgium on June 14. Small contingents deployed by Portugal, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Finland, Albania, North Macedonia and Luxembourg have also left.
The withdrawal is coming to an end as security in Afghanistan deteriorates. Since May 1, when the withdrawal began, the Taliban have invaded district after district, including along major transportation routes. Many fell after the surrender of Afghan soldiers, often persuaded to leave their posts by the elders. But elsewhere there were bitter military battles, with Afghan troops sometimes losing when their positions could not be resupplied.
The US military commander in Afghanistan, General Austen S. Miller, meanwhile expressed concern about the resurrection of militias, which were deployed to aid besieged national security forces but which have a brutal reputation for killing at large. ladder.
“Civil war is certainly a path that can be visualized if it continues on the course it is currently on, that should be of concern to the world,” he said.
In a ceremony last week to mark the official end of the Dutch deployment, Dutch Defense Minister Ank Bijleveld-Schouten underlined the uncertain outlook.
“We are seeing reports of the rise of the Taliban, of increasing violence, also in the areas where we were stationed,” she said. “A lot has been achieved but we have to be realistic: the results are not irreversible. “
This story has been updated to correct the fact that Italian troops arrived home late Tuesday, not Wednesday.
Gannon reported from Kabul, Afghanistan. Associated Press editors Nicole Winfield in Rome; Mike Corder in The Hague, The Netherlands; Robert Burns in Washington and journalists from across Europe contributed to this report.
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