Kabul: The majority of British troops have quietly withdrawn from Afghanistan, with flag-lowering ceremonies marking the final stages of a nearly 20-year campaign, as per Sky News report. Boris Johnson is set to chair a National Security Council meeting on Monday to decide the future shape of the UK footprint in the country, amid mounting security concerns as the Afghan government loses territory to a resurgent Taliban and the threat of civil war looms.
British special forces could retain a presence, while a small number of regular troops may be required if the UK decides – as is likely, according to a Whitehall source – to keep an embassy open. The developments emerged as expectations grew that a much larger withdrawal by the US of thousands of its forces from Afghanistan could be completed within days. The UK’s National Security Council meeting has already twice been delayed – and could be again – but time is running out to finalize and publicize the British position.
“We are getting to a crunch point,” a second Whitehall source said. Britain has been drawing down its presence of some 750 military personnel as part of a NATO mission in Afghanistan after US President Joe Biden decided to pull his troops out by 11 September – the 20th anniversary of the al Qaeda attacks on his country that prompted the US-led invasion in the first place.
In fact, most European troops have already pulled out of Afghanistan, quietly withdrawing months before the US-led mission was officially expected to end — part of an anticlimactic close to the “forever war” that risks leaving the country on the brink of civil war. Germany and Italy declared their missions in Afghanistan over on Wednesday and Poland’s last troops returned home, bringing their deployments to a low-key end nearly 20 years after the first Western soldiers were deployed there. NATO agreed in April to withdraw its roughly 7,000 non-American forces from Afghanistan to match US President Joe Biden’s decision to pull all American troops from the country, starting May 1.
In fact, Mircea Geoana, NATO Deputy Secretary General, at the virtual session of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) and the Subcommittee on Security and Defense Committee on Foreign Affairs (SEDE), said, “After almost 20 years, NATO military operations are coming to an end. Withdrawing our troops does not mean we are ending our relationship with Afghanistan. We’ll continue to stand with Afghanistan, its people and its institutions, including with training and financial support for Afghan forces and institutions, and funding to ensure the continued functioning of the international airport in Kabul.” Also, NATO’s Senior Civilian Representative Stefano Pontecorvo, said, “We’re entering a new phase in our relationship. The military maybe leaving, but my civilian office and myself will be staying and we’re committed to supporting the ANDSF through financial assistance and training. The republic faces many challenges in the months ahead. The gains that the Afghan society has made in the last few years have been won at the cost of much blood; we have made many sacrifices to get to this point, and we don’t intend to bend on these games for the Afghan people. We’ll do what we can to support the united, democratic, republic, which is not a safe haven for terrorist. We want all Afghans to have future in a safe, stable, secure, and free of violence.”
Biden set a September 11 deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. But more recently, American officials have said that pullout would most likely be completed by July 4 — and many allies have moved to wrap up their own presence by then as well. NATO declined to give an update on Wednesday on how many nations still have troops in its Resolute Support mission. But an analysis of 19 governments’ announcements shows that more than 4,800 of the non-American forces have left.
The US has refused to give troop figures, but when Biden announced the final pullout, between 2,500 and 3,500 troops were deployed. As of February, a total of some 832,000 American troops had served in Afghanistan, while about 25,100 Defense Department civilians had also served there. The US has also refused to give a clear date for a final withdrawal. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday only that the US withdrawal remains “on the timeline that the president announced… which is to get our troops out of Afghanistan, while having a remaining diplomatic presence on the ground, by September.”
As Italy has completed its troop exit from Afghanistan, the control of the Herat’s airport and the military camp was handed over to Afghan forces. Herat was under the control of the Italian military for the last 20 years.Meanwhile, Herat Governor Abdul Saboor Qane said, “We pledge that our security and defense forces across Afghanistan are ready to defend our country and the people in the western zone and in Herat.” Commenting on the situation, Abdul Shaheer Salehi, the director of Herat airport, informed that all aviation services are being carried out by the professional cadres of Khawja Abdullah Ansari airport. “There have been no problems at all at the airport following the withdrawal of foreign forces and flights are being carried out normally and regularly,” he said
Poland’s last departing troops were greeted Wednesday by Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak. Some 33,000 Polish troops have served in Afghanistan over the past 20 years. The last Italian troops from Italy’s base in Herat arrived at the military airport in Pisa late on Tuesday. Italy officially declared its mission in Afghanistan over in a statement on Wednesday, with Italian Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini paying tribute to the 53 Italians who died and 723 who were injured over the past two decades. Going forward, Guerini said Italy’s commitment to Afghanistan would remain, “beginning with the strengthening of development cooperation and support for Afghan institutions.”
Georgia’s last troops returned home Monday, while Romania brought home its remaining 140 troops Saturday, when Norway also pulled out. Troops from Denmark, Estonia and the Netherlands also returned home last week. Spain withdrew its last troops on May 13, Sweden on May 25, and Belgium on June 14. The small contingents deployed by Portugal, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Finland, Albania, North Macedonia and Luxembourg have left as well.
The pullout is nearing its end as security in Afghanistan worsens. Since May 1, when the withdrawal began, the Taliban have overrun district after district, including along major transportation routes.
Meanwhile, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Wednesday said that only the people of Afghanistan could resolve the conflict in their country, however, Pakistan would continue to play a conciliatory role. “We can only facilitate the peace process and reconciliation among the Afghan stakeholders,” the foreign minister said in a statement on the situation of Afghanistan and the region.
The foreign minister said other countries – United States, China or Russia – could only extend support to the peace process, however, the solution to the problem rested with the Afghans themselves. He referred to the statement of US President Joe Biden who had also emphasized that only Afghans could better resolve the problem faced by their nation. In challenging times, he said, Pakistan would take every step for its own security.
Earlier, the Pakistan foreign minister had confirmed that the government had invited the representatives from all parliamentary parties to attend a conference on national security on July 1, which will mainly focus on the situation in the region, particularly Afghanistan.
On the other hand, Russia believes that the process of settling the situation in Afghanistan should take into account the role that the Taliban plays in the country’s political life, Russia’s Permanent Representative at the UN Vassily Nebenzia told a briefing on Wednesday.
“We are actively participating in all the efforts for establishing peace in Afghanistan,” the Russian envoy said. “It is necessary to address this issue as quickly as possible because the Taliban itself claims that it is controlling 80% of the territory of Afghanistan. I do not know, how accurate these figures are, and cannot comment on them. But a solution cannot be found without taking into account the fact that the Taliban has become a part of the political landscape of Afghanistan,” Nebenzya said.
The situation in Afghanistan is changing very quickly, especially as a result of the US troop pullout from the country, the Russian envoy pointed out. “We will still have to see, what the country looks like after the Americans complete their withdrawal,” he added.
This comes even as US Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power met with Chairperson for the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission Shaharzad Akbar to discuss the vital work of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and the significant challenges Afghan civilians are facing, especially women, members of religious and ethnic minority groups, members of civil society, and nongovernmental organization workers in Afghanistan.