All 7,000 NATO troops, including some 750 from the UK, are expected to leave Afghanistan along with US forces before 9/11, ending two decades of military intervention in the country.
The withdrawal plans are now being discussed by NATO’s defense and foreign ministers in a virtual meeting a day after the United States said it would withdraw the remaining 2,500 soldiers on the orders of President Joe Biden.
Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, who arrived at NATO headquarters in Brussels before the meeting, said it was time for the military alliance to leave the country, amid fears that the Taliban could later take power in Kabul.
“I am here to work closely with our partners, with the [Nato] Secretary General, according to the principle that we have established from the beginning: inside together, adapting together and outside together, ”Blinken said in a statement televised at NATO headquarters.
“We will work very closely in the coming months for a safe, deliberate and coordinated withdrawal of our forces from Afghanistan,” said Blinken, alongside NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.
Alliance members are not expected to oppose plans for a total withdrawal now that the United States has made its intentions clear, in part because it cannot guarantee the safety of its own forces without the presence of the United States.
On Tuesday, the Biden administration said it would begin the pullout in May and complete nearly 20 years after the attack on the World Trade Center in New York that started the long “war on terror.” The threat from the Taliban to the US is considered to be at a level where a military presence is no longer required.
Germany, which contributes 1,300 soldiers to the training and stabilization mission, indicated that it would support the withdrawal before the virtual meeting.
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the country’s defense minister, told ARD public television: “We always said: we will go in together, we will go together.” She added: “I am in favor of an orderly withdrawal and so I assume that [Nato] will agree to that today. “
More details are expected to emerge later in the day, when Blinken holds a press conference with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Stoltenberg.
More than 2,300 US troops have been killed and 20,000 injured in the protracted conflict, in which an estimated 50,000 Afghan civilians have died. The Taliban were expelled from Kabul at the beginning of the conflict, but more recently the security situation for civilians has worsened.
Action on Armed Violence, a research group that monitors deaths in conflict, said in 2020 that Afghanistan had the highest level of civilian casualties damaged by explosive weapons on record by any country in the world, surpassing Syria. Last year, the UN recorded 3,035 civilian deaths in the country.
Formally, Britain was more cautious, although defense experts have recognized for some time that “if [the Americans] come on, we’ll all have to go. Thats the reality “.
A UK Defense Ministry spokesperson said: “We are working closely with America’s allies and partners, NATO to support a safe and stable Afghanistan. Any changes to our security presence will be made in agreement with partners and after consultation with our partners. “
Britain played a major role in combat operations in the country between 2001 and 2014, leading the fight against the Taliban in the southern province of Helmand. A total of 454 British soldiers and civilians were killed in operations during the period, according to the Defense Ministry.
The Trump administration had agreed to withdraw all forces by May, after reaching a peace agreement with the Taliban, in which the hardline Islamist group was to crack down on al-Qaeda, stop attacking international troops and enter into peace negotiations with the Afghan government.
Biden’s election as president last year prompted a review, but his final decision doesn’t seem much different. The previous orthodoxy had been to require the Taliban to meet certain conditions prior to the withdrawal of US troops.
But by Tuesday, it was clear that this had changed. A senior US official who briefed reporters on the decision said: “The president has judged that a conditions-based approach, which has been the approach for the past two decades, is a recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever.”
However, concern remains in British circles that if the Taliban were to take over the Kabul government, public questions would be raised about the purpose of the military intervention, although the terrorist threat is seen to have lessened.
Approximately 36 countries provide troops for NATO’s Resolute Support mission, which largely provides advice and training assistance to the country’s security forces. The largest contributors also include Italy, Georgia, Romania, and Turkey, which supply several hundred troops each.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism