Spain plans to repatriate its last troops in Afghanistan on the 13th, ending a mission of almost 20 years that has been the most costly in terms of lives (102 deaths) and resources (3,500 million euros) of the Spanish Army in democracy. The last of Afghanistan there are 24 soldiers and two interpreters. US President Joe Biden has announced that on September 11 there will be no US soldiers left in Afghanistan, but the departure of his 2,500 military personnel and 7,000 from NATO is already underway.
Spain had more than 1,500 soldiers in Afghanistan, but at the moment the Spanish contingent in NATO’s Resolute Support mission is limited to 24 soldiers and two interpreters. Its top person in charge is Colonel Alfonso Álvarez Planelles, who heads the allied division that provides logistical support to the Afghan Army, at the Hamid Karzai base, at the Kabul airport.
The contingent is completed by an officer, Lieutenant Colonel Pablo Paniagua, at NATO headquarters; 14 Special Operations experts providing training, advice and assistance to their Afghan counterparts; and the eight members of the National Support Element (NSI). The ‘green berets’ were stationed at the Camp Morehead base, outside Kabul, but all have already concentrated at the airport in the Afghan capital to prepare for their repatriation.
The Defense General Staff had prepared the withdrawal since Donald Trump agreed with the Taliban to withdraw US troops before May 1 of this year, but these plans were suspended with the victory of Democrat Joe Biden. The White House announced on April 14 that the withdrawal will be completed by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the Twin Towers. However, the withdrawal has already begun: some countries, such as Greece, have removed all their military personnel and others are doing so progressively, according to the sources consulted.
In the Spanish case, as it is a small contingent, it is planned to repatriate them in a single military flight, after a simple ceremony of lowering the Spanish flag at the Hamid Karzai base.
The departure of Western troops has coincided with an offensive by the Taliban, who want to mark the withdrawal as a success. The insurgents have launched a simultaneous offensive in seven provinces and have taken over the Baghlan district in the north of the country. In addition, at least 27 people were killed in a car bomb attack in Logar province in eastern Afghanistan in late April. The fear is that the Kabul government, despite the huge resources spent in these two decades to shore up its power, will be unable to maintain control of the country after the departure of NATO, as happened in the eighties after the Soviet withdrawal with the Najibulá regime.
The first 350 Spanish soldiers arrived in Kabul on January 24, 2002, four months after Al Qaeda launched its attacks against Washington and New York, within the framework of the ISAF (International Afghanistan Assistance Force) operation. In 2005, under NATO command, Spain took over the Herat base and the PRT (Provincial Reconstruction Team) in Qala-i-Now, in the west of the country. The bulk of the troops were withdrawn between 2012 and 2013, when Spain transferred the security of Badghis province and the Ruy González de Clavijo base to the Afghan authorities. On December 31, 2014, the ISAF operation concluded and was replaced by Resolute Support, much smaller.
Throughout these almost two decades, more than 27,000 Spanish soldiers have participated in the mission in Afghanistan at a total cost of more than 3,500 million euros. The contingent has been progressively reduced and went from 65 to 24 military personnel after last year, as a result of the COVID, all non-essential personnel were withdrawn. In parallel, the cost of the mission has been cut, which exceeded 430 million in 2013 and last year it was 8,017,000.
The mission in Afghanistan has also been the most costly in the life of the Spanish Army in peacetime, with a hundred deaths. Most of the deaths occurred in the Yak-42 plane crash in May 2003, with 62 fatalities; and in the Cougar helicopter in August 2005 with 17, but 14 were also killed in insurgency attacks, the majority with improvised explosive devices (IED).
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.