Germany withdraws last troops from Afghanistan

Special Germany withdraws last troops from Afghanistan
German soldiers leave an Airbus A400M cargo plane of the German armed forces Bundeswehr, after returning from Afghanistan at the airfield in Wunstorf, Germany. (Reuters)
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Updated 01 July 2021

Germany withdraws last troops from Afghanistan

Germany withdraws last troops from Afghanistan
  • Ends mission in the country, which its defense minister says soldiers ‘can be proud of’

KABUL: Germany withdrew its last remaining soldiers from Afghanistan on Tuesday, bringing to an end nearly 20 years of its mission in the war-torn country, amid the total withdrawal of US-led foreign troops and fears that the nation might slide back into anarchy.

In a Twitter post last evening, German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said that her last soldier had “left Afghanistan safely.”

Around 750 containers of equipment have been shipped back to Germany by land and air, including 120 vehicles and six helicopters, she said before thanking the over 150,000 troops who had served in Afghanistan since the Taliban’s ousting in a US-led invasion in 2001.

German troops “can be proud of this mission,” Kramp-Karrenbauer said.

Afghan officials said on Wednesday that the presence of German troops had been “highly effective” in Afghanistan, where the Taliban has been gaining ground since the phased drawdown process began on May 1.

It is scheduled to be completed by Sept. 11, the anniversary of the twin tower attacks in the US.

“No doubt their assistance has been highly effective, particularly on raising the potential of our troops’ military capabilities,” Fawad Aman, Defense Ministry spokesman, told Arab News.

He added that German soldiers based in the northern region, particularly in the Balkh province — the key city of the area — had “helped Afghan forces in terms of education, mentoring, the conduct of offensives” and would be involved in future projects too.

“They have committed that the exit of the troops does not mean the end of their assistance , and they will help us in the future too. They were also involved in development projects in the area,” Aman said.

Nearly 60 German soldiers lost their lives during the mission in Afghanistan, where the resurgent Taliban staged deadly strikes on foreign troops and Afghan government forces.

German troops came under fire during a series of air raids in the past two decades, which also killed scores of Afghan civilians, mainly in the northeastern Kunduz province.

In one such incident, over 90 Afghan civilians lost their lives in a September 2009 attack, prompting Germany to offer a $5,000 compensation for each individual, which Afghanistan’s former economy minister said at the time was a “laughable sum.”

In retaliation to another deadly airstrike on Kunduz in 2016, the Taliban launched a suicide attack on the German Consulate in Mazar-i-Sharif, Balkh’s provincial capital, in which a group of Afghan civilians were killed. While no German national was hurt, the building housing the consulate was severely damaged.

In 2017, a powerful truck bomb outside the German Embassy in Kabul killed dozens of Afghans, forcing Berlin to halt its diplomatic mission in Afghanistan.

Commenting on the “lasting legacy” of German troops in the country, Afghan political analyst Zabihullah Pakteen said that the residents of Balkh believed that the city “would not fall to the Taliban in the presence of its troops.”

“Warlords turned contractors have been the main beneficiary of the German presence,” Pakteen told Arab News, highlighting some of the drawbacks.

“The deteriorating security in Afghanistan … Taliban advances and rapid losses of territory by the Afghan government had given Afghans the feeling that the world is abandoning Afghan partners,” he added.

In April, the US-led coalition agreed to withdraw its roughly 7,000 non-American forces from Afghanistan based on a directive by President Joe Biden.

Since May 1, the Taliban have intensified their attacks and overrun dozens of crucial districts, confiscating weapons and armored vehicles from government forces.

As part of an effort to curb Taliban advances amid a reduced number of foreign troops, President Ashraf Ghani’s embattled government has been handing out arms and cash through regional strongmen to locals in certain areas under a controversial scheme in recent weeks.

On Tuesday, the top US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Scott Miller, highlighted the risk of a civil war as the last American troops prepare to withdraw from the country.

Miller said Afghanistan could face “very hard times” if its leadership cannot unite once international troops leave.

“The security situation is not good right now. Civil war is certainly a path that can be visualised if this continues on the trajectory it’s on right now,” he told reporters, adding: “That should be a concern to the world.”

Afghan officials refused to comment on Miller’s warning when contacted by Arab News on Wednesday.

However, Ghani has, in the past, insisted that the country’s security forces are “fully capable” of keeping insurgents at bay.