The Risks of Hasty Withdrawal: US Troop Drawdown from Afghanistan Could Endanger Peace Process

Written by | Saturday, November 21st, 2020

The head of NATO is now expressing less confidence there will be a coordinated military withdrawal from Afghanistan after US President Donald Trump announced in October that he wanted to bring American troops home from Afghanistan “by Christmas“. Reacting to the US’ unilateral decision to withdraw troops, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg underscored that “we will make a decision together, coordinate our efforts based on the principle ‘in together, adjust together, and when the time is right, when the conditions are met, then we will leave together,’ but not before.” But fast forward a few weeks and now Stoltenberg’s statements don’t say allies “will” but that they “should” leave together — and not yet. With the US halfway out the door, the uncomfortable question is what happens to some 12,000 international troops from 38 countries left in Afghanistan, according to NATO, half of whom are non-US?
“No NATO ally wants to stay any longer than necessary, but at the same time, the price for leaving too soon or in an uncoordinated way could be very high,” Stoltenberg said earlier this week, warning this could lead to Afghanistan “becoming once again a platform for international terrorists to plan and organize attacks on our homelands.” Stefano Stefanini, an Italian former ambassador to NATO, said no one should be surprised Trump is doing his utmost to follow through on his tweet about withdrawal as he seeks legitimacy to continue contesting his loss to President-elect Joe Biden or a legacy on which to run again for president in 2024. Stressing that a major US drawdown would definitely be felt by those countries that remain as Troop Contributing Nations in NATO’s current Resolute Support Mission (RSM), Stefanini warned that “they do rely on the American presence for protection and security and now they become more vulnerable.”
Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on Wednesday (18 November) voiced concern that the hasty withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan could have a negative impact on the ongoing peace negotiations between the government and Taliban rebels. “The fact that both sides are now sitting at a negotiating table and have started speaking with one another in constructive fashion after decades of conflict is certainly not to be taken for granted,” Mass said. Pointing out that the peace process was very fragile and in need of continued strengthening and assistance from the international community, Maas said that “we should not unnecessarily create additional hurdles such as those that would certainly result from a hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan.” As Germany currently has some 1,300 soldiers in the country as part of the NATO-led mission to train and support local security forces, Maas noted that “when deciding on our future presence in Afghanistan, we should and must consider the situation on the ground and especially the safety of the soldiers that are there at our behest.“

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