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Biden travels to NATO amid tensions over withdrawing from Afghanistan



“It is no surprise that some countries are fairly clearly expressing their dissatisfaction with the way things have been done,” said a European official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to raise a sensitive issue. “This is another example of one of the issues on which we should discuss and consult more fully within NATO before making decisions.”

There is little choice but to take part in the retreat. Since then, NATO allies have come on board, European officials say. The last western troops are likely to leave Afghanistan weeks before the 9/11 deadline, possibly as early as July; On Tuesday, the US withdrawal was more than 50 percent complete, according to the US Central Command. As of 2021, NATO countries had nearly 10,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, including Germany, Great Britain, Turkey, Georgia, Romania and Italy.

A senior official in the Biden administration rejected the characterization that NATO was out of date, noting that US officials set up a “listening session” with allies “to hear their perspectives and priorities” in early February “Very appreciated by everyone” became an ally. “

“This created the conditions for an improved pace of consultation with NATO, during which several scenarios and possible outcomes were discussed,” said the official. The official declined to say whether the proposal to move to a time-based withdrawal was discussed.

Biden must smooth the tide now as the NATO coalition looks to a not-too-distant future in which the Afghan National Defense Forces are essentially left to their own devices for the first time in 20 years.

In public, US and NATO officials have expressed cautious optimism about the future of Afghanistan. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he trusted that the Afghan security forces could withstand the attacks by the Taliban and that the government in Kabul would succeed in consolidating the social and economic achievements of the past 20 years.

“The intention was never to stay there forever,” said Stoltenberg during a Monday event at the Atlantic Council prior to his first meeting with Biden as president. “The decision to exit carries risks, but at the same time we will be leaving an Afghanistan that is very different from the Afghanistan in 2001.”

“At some point the Afghans have had to take full responsibility for their own future, and they do so with continued support from NATO allies,” he added.

However, experts warn that the country’s security situation will worsen after the US and its allies leave Afghanistan and Western forces may have to clean up the chaos. The retired General Joseph Votel, the former head of the US Central Command, compared the current situation in Afghanistan with the withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, which probably led to the rise of Islamic State.

“I find it hard not to look at this through the lens of our 2011 decision in Iraq when we pulled back and then went back in,” said Votel, noting that “the situation in Baghdad in 2011 was a lot” better than in Kabul in 2021. “

The key to containing the Taliban and terrorist organizations after the withdrawal of Western forces will be maintaining the Afghan National Security Forces, which have suffered massive losses in recent years. One of the most pressing questions is whether the US and NATO allies will continue to train the Afghan forces in some form, remotely or from outside the country, after the withdrawal.

The Pentagon has said its own training mission will end after the withdrawal, but Stoltenberg said Monday that NATO will try to train the Afghans from another location.

“Our military mission, the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, will end. But of course we can train Afghan forces in other countries and see how we can provide this type of support, ”he said. “I am absolutely certain that this is also the best way to fight terrorism.”

The coalition will continue to provide financial aid to the Afghan government, but the levels and amounts of each country’s contributions have yet to be determined, officials said.

Another major challenge is the remote conduct of surveillance and counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan. One of the main concerns of Western officials is that al-Qaeda, Islamic State and other potential terrorists will resurface once US and NATO forces leave the country.

“I don’t think anyone is complacent with the terrorist threat from Afghanistan or any other country and so we need to make sure we have the ability and ability to face that threat,” said Ed Ferguson, Council of Ministers on Defense at the British Embassy in Washington.

US officials have claimed these operations will continue after the withdrawal, relying on the US presence in the Gulf and possibly stationing troops from neighboring countries. However, some European allies are skeptical that with this limited ability the coalition can achieve more strategic goals beyond the horizon.

“We may have to adapt because we are unlikely to be using the same tools to collect information that we had when we were there,” the European official said, pointing to the logistical challenges facing US forces Territories of distant bases in the Gulf.

NATO is also closely monitoring how the United States is addressing the problem of maintaining the safety of the thousands of Afghan interpreters and other civilians who have helped the US government over the past 20 years and are now threatened by the Taliban.

In an ominous statement last week, the Taliban urged Afghans working with Western forces to “show remorse for their past actions” and warned them not to “engage in future activities that threaten Islam and that Represent country “. . “The group said these people are in no danger if they stop these activities.

US lawmakers recently expressed frustration over the failure of the White House to move faster to expedite special immigrant visas for up to 18,000 Afghans to enter the United States before withdrawal is complete.

In contrast, European countries have taken more robust steps to speed up their own relocation processes. For example, the UK recently announced that it would accelerate the relocation of Afghan workers and families who worked for the UK government in Afghanistan. More than 1,360 people have already been relocated in the UK and the government now estimates around 3,000 more will be added.

France is now also offering Afghans who have worked in the French army over the years the opportunity to emigrate to France with their families.

“France feels responsible to all Afghans with whom we have worked and who have helped us,” said Louis Dugi-Gros, Asia adviser at the French embassy in Washington.

Some experts and lawmakers are urging the Pentagon to come up with a plan to evacuate the refugees to a third location like Guam while their paperwork is being processed. But the ministry has said the White House has not yet asked for such an option.

“I have no doubt that the US military would do this very professionally, but there is a lot of coordination that needs to be done there to get them to our country or a third location,” said Votel. “The longer we go with it, the more it looks like a crisis that we take these steps, it looks more and more desperate over time.”

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