Kabul (dpa) – After nearly 20 years of deployment, the withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan officially begins.
About 10,000 NATO soldiers from the Resolute Support training mission, including 2,500 soldiers from the US and about 1,100 from Germany, are said to have left the country by September.
According to NATO and the Bundeswehr, the withdrawal has even started. Material has been taken out of the country for weeks. NATO said that since the security of the troops was a top priority, no details about the operation would be given, such as troop numbers or timetables for individual states. Most recently, 36 NATO states and partner countries were involved in the operation.
Military strategists expect additional dangers from possible attacks by the militant Islamist Taliban on alliance soldiers. The US military has heavy weapons ready. For Germany, the Special Forces Command (KSK) must secure the withdrawal. Any Taliban attack during the withdrawal must be met with a “decisive response,” NATO said.
The US, Russia, China and Pakistan jointly called on the Taliban on Friday not to disrupt the withdrawal with attacks. After a meeting of four in Doha, they appealed to the warring parties to reduce the level of violence and seek a negotiated solution. A government created by force is not supported. Attacks on civilians would be strongly condemned.
US President Joe Biden announced mid-month that all US soldiers would withdraw from Afghanistan by September 11. Immediately afterwards, NATO announced that the alliance would end the operation completely. According to the alliance, the withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan has already begun and should be completed within “a few months”. This also ends the Bundeswehr’s mission in Afghanistan. Representatives from the US, Russia, China and Pakistan have spoken about Afghanistan several times over the past two years.
Together with US forces, thousands of US indentured servants, so-called “contractors”, are being withdrawn from the country. According to a report by the US Inspector General for Reconstruction in Afghanistan (Sigar), as of April 2021, the US Department of Defense had 16,800 indentured servants in the country performing various tasks. About 6,100 of them were US citizens, about 6,400 third-country nationals and about 4,200 Afghan citizens.
The withdrawal puts an end to the most loss-making and expensive foreign deployment in the history of the Bundeswehr. 59 German soldiers were killed, 35 in attacks or fighting. The operation, which was originally intended to keep the peace and then became a combat mission against the rebel Taliban, cost more than $ 12 billion. Most recently, the core mission of NATO forces has been the training of the Afghan armed forces.
In Afghanistan there are mixed feelings about the withdrawal. Local media reports from people who are happy and want to celebrate a new Independence Day after the last soldier has left the country. In others, the trigger evokes pure fear. Financially prosperous and liberal Afghans in particular want to leave the country. They fear a return of the repressive Taliban regime or a new civil war.
Large sections of the Afghan political elite said they would have liked a “responsible” withdrawal of troops. By this they mean that the US – which triggered the NATO withdrawal by its decision to withdraw US troops – should have waited for further progress in the peace process. The government’s peace negotiations with the rebel Taliban have been ongoing since September, but have recently stalled.
The complete withdrawal of the troops is also a test for the Afghan security forces to see if they can defend the government without direct support. The Taliban continue to attack facilities of security forces across the country on a daily basis. US generals had expressed concern in recent weeks that the government could collapse after the withdrawal or that another civil war could break out in the country.