Worries rise over Afghanistan pullout

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Top military officials claim Norway’s lengthy mission in Afghanistan has been accomplished, but some local Afghan leaders worry that security and safety will be much worse when the Norwegians leave the area where they’ve been based. The Taliban, they claim, is preparing for Norway’s pullout.

Norway's military camps in Afghanistan are being dismantled in preparation for a planned troop withdrawal by October 1. PHOTO: Forsvaret

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported on Tuesday that Rahmatullah Turkistani, said to be the most powerful politician in the Faryab province where the Norwegian camp has been located, fears the consequences when the Norwegian-led NATO “stablization force” leaves on October 1.

“The Taliban has increased its activity after learning that the stabilization forces are pulling out,” Turkistani told NRK. “The number of suicide bombing attacks has increased considerably in the past four months.”

The leader of the Norwegian stabilization force in Faryab, Col. Odd Andreas Søbstad, said there was no Taliban in the area when he first launched operations there in 2004. Since then Søbstad has been in and out of Faryab and said there are more insurgents now.

“The typical insurgents are those who earlier were a local chief in a valley who we had no contact with but whom we now try to bring under the control of local authorities,” Søbstad told NRK. “They’re not interested in that. They put up opposition and then become what we call ‘insurgents.'”

Withdrawal of what some local leaders see as occupation forces, however, could reduce opposition. Norway’s defense chief Harald Sunde remains confident that Norway has fulfilled its mission in Afghanistan and that the Taliban won’t return to power in the same form as earlier.

“I’m an optimist on behalf of all of Afghanistan,” Sunde told newspaper Aftenposten on Tuesday.

Breaking camp
Norwegian troops, who’ve been part of the NATO-led ISAF forces in Afghanistan for the past nine years, have been in the process of dismantling their camps. Most of the Norwegian forces have been in northern Afghanistan, near the cities of Meymaneh and Maza-e Sharif. Several thousand Norwegian troops have taken part in the Afghan operations over the years, but most will be returning to Norway over the next few weeks.

Sunde noted that the Taliban is willing to enter into a ceasefire and accept an American presence in the future. “This is ‘mission accomplished,'” Sunde told Aftenposten. “We have made a considerable contribution for the Afghan people. I have been in Afghanistan myself numerous times and seen changes for the better.”

His assessment differs with that reported by NRK and he acknowledges the danger of ethnic conflicts that continue to flare up.

“But Afghans are an honest people facing great ethnic challenges,”he said. “The country will change over time, but will never revert fully to the old Taliban rule.”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai was due to visit Norway later this week, for bilateral talks with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg on Friday and a conference.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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