Kabul: US President Joe Biden and his NATO counterparts will bid a symbolic farewell to Afghanistan on Monday in their last NATO summit before America winds up its longest “forever war” and the US military pulls out for good.
The meeting is bound to renew questions about whether NATO’s most ambitious operation ever was worth it. The 18-year effort cost the United States alone $2.26 trillion, and the price in lives includes 2,442 American troops and 1,144 personnel among US allies, according to figures from Brown University.
Those casualty figures dwarf Afghan losses, which include more than 47,000 civilians, up to 69,000 members of the national armed forces and police, and over 51,000 opposition fighters. The military effort followed the 2001 arrival of a US-led coalition that ousted the Taliban for harboring Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
With the US leading the withdrawal, European allies and Canada want to hear Biden’s thinking about how security will be assured at their embassies, along major transport routes and above all at Kabul’s airport. Many wonder whether the Afghan government can survive a resurgent Taliban.
“We are currently in intense discussions with our member states, the United States, NATO and the United Nations on the absence of essential security conditions for our continued diplomatic presence. It will be difficult to keep it” in place, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.
For now, NATO plans to leave civilian advisers to help build up government institutions. The 30-nation alliance is also weighing whether to train Afghan special forces outside the country. As an organization, NATO will not provide sanctuary for Afghans who worked alongside its forces — routinely risking their lives — although a few individual members will. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says it’s simply time to leave.
“Afghanistan has come a long way, both when it comes to building strong, capable security forces, but also when it comes to social and economic progress,” he told The Associated Press. “At some stage, it has to be the Afghans that take full responsibility for peace and stability in their own country.”
However, the US special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad said that the US will not abandon Afghanistan even after the withdrawal of its forces, set to be completed by September 11.
He was speaking at a news conference during his visit to Kazakhstan’s capital, Nur-Sultan, on June 13. The Afghan-born diplomat said that he regularly discusses Afghanistan with his Russian counterpart — President Vladimir Putin’s special representative, Zamir Kabulov.