Correspondent in Brussels
The presence of two members of the US Government in Brussels is an extraordinary event. That one of them, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, has visited NATO headquarters for the second time in less than a month it’s even more surprising and also emphatically illustrates the significance of the formal announcement made yesterday that the withdrawal of the last troops from Agfanistan, after two decades of military presence in that remote country, will be completed on September 11, the anniversary of the attack by which this operation started two decades ago.
Both Blinken and his colleague in charge of the Department of Defense, Lloyd Austin, as well as the Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, appeared at a press conference, the first in person since the pandemic began, to try to justify this decision of the one that no one was unaware that will have consequences probably terrible for the Afghans themselves and who knows if for the entire conglomerate of world Islamic terrorism. The only thing that has become clear is that the final decision has been made by the new American president, Joe Biden, who in turn alleges the conditions inherited from the previous Administration, and that the allies have accepted it in a good or bad way, because any other option had perhaps worse consequences.
No military solution
After this extraordinary meeting of the North Atlantic Council with the participation by teleconference of the Ministers of Defense and Foreign of the other allied countries, a declaration was approved in which it is indicated that since “there is no military solution for the challenges that facing Afghanistan, the Allies have determined that we will start the withdrawal of the NATO Mission forces on May 1. This reduction will be orderly, coordinated and deliberate. We plan to complete the withdrawal of all forces from the NATO Resolute Support Mission and those of the United States. In a few months. Any attack by the Taliban on Allied troops during this withdrawal will be met with a resounding response. The conclusion of the NATO Mission takes place in the context of renewed regional and international support for political progress towards peace. We will continue to support the ongoing peace process under Afghan leadership. We welcome the Istanbul Conference as an opportunity to advance the peace process and reinforce the progress made in Doha. We call on the Afghan government and the Taliban to adhere to their commitments to the peace process initiated by the US-Taliban agreement and the US-Afghanistan Joint Declaration. “
At the press conference, none of the US officials or the NATO secretary general agreed to assume the consequences that this decision will have for the thousands of Afghans who have collaborated with the allied troops and who may become refugees by knocking on the door of Europe. “That we withdraw our forces does not mean that we leave Afghanistan, we will continue to support the development of the Afghans and the Afghan security forces to help overcome challenges that Afghans have to deal with, ”Austin said.
For his part, Stoltemberg acknowledged that NATO faced a dilemma since “the alternative to leaving was to prepare for an indefinite mission, when Afghans have the right to build peace for themselves” and promised that “we will continue to support efforts to keep the peace in Afghanistan. We will continue to support Afghanistan despite not have thousands of soldiers in the country and we will continue to act to ensure that the progress made is not wasted. ‘ The Secretary General of the Alliance acknowledged that “it has not been an easy decision, it has many risks and requires that we continue to be aware of Afghanistan and in this sense we warn the Taliban that if they attack we will respond. But we want to open a new chapter in our relations with the country, there are many ways to cooperate with them, it is the beginning of a new era because after 20 years in Afghanistan it is time to put an end to our presence. For the moment, NATO and especially the United States will continue to finance the Afghan army, but they will be very careful with the military material they transfer in case it could end up in the hands of the Taliban, who do not worship their intentions to take advantage of the withdrawal of allied troops to complete its objectives of reinstating the theocratic and tyrannical regime.
An unavoidable decision
According to Secretary of State Blinken, the decision to begin the withdrawal on May 1 has been “a inevitable consequence of the inheritance he has received: a US agreement with the Taliban, a negligible military presence on the ground and a commitment to withdraw on May 1. Now ‘the Taliban have to choose. They say they want international recognition and support as part of the Afghan government and things like the release of prisoners and this is going to depend on the next steps they are going to take. In the end, the Afghans will be the Afghans who will have to decide about their future. ‘
Lloyd also justified himself by saying that the withdrawal from Afghanistan will allow all allies focus on preventing and deterring other possible threats, among which he expressly cited China and Russia. And yet, on the Afghan issue, the US representatives recognized that they have “crossed interests” with these two countries and with others (India, Pakistan, Iran or Turkey) that are also interested in stability in Afghanistan.
At least from the formal point of view, this very committed step has been taken within the spirit of cooperation assumed between allies: “NATO assembled one of the largest coalitions in history to serve in Afghanistan. Our troops went to Afghanistan together, we have adapted together and now we are leaving together. We are grateful to all who participated in and supported this mission, including the Afghan security forces. We honor the sacrifices of those who paid the highest price for their service. The reality is that if the United States decided to leave Afghanistan on its own, even though it is currently a minority of the allied troops, the presence of the other countries would have been impossible.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism