Afghan pullout spurs debate, refugees

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Six weeks after Norway officially withdrew most of its troops from Afghanistan, debate continues to rumble over the results of the country’s 11-year involvement in the war against terrorism and the Taliban. Norwegian authorities also reportedly now face asylum applications from scores of Afghans who worked for Norwegian defense forces.

Norwegian troops have been stationed in Afghanistan since shortly after the invasion by international forces in 2001, with the aim of beating the Taliban and routing out terrorists. Some troops will remain through 2014, but most Norwegian soldiers have been returning home this fall. PHOTO: Forsvaret

The debate began even before the official pullout on October 1, with many wondering whether Norway’s lengthy participation was worth the effort. Norwegian troops were mostly charged with trying to stabilize the country, building up Afghanistan’s own police and defense forces, and offering humanitarian aid.

Three of the opposition parties in parliament plus one of the parties making up Norway’s government coalition are calling for a broad evaluation of Norway’s contribution to the international effort to bring stability to Afghanistan. SV, the Christian Democrats, the Progress Party and the Liberal Party claim they’re meeting resistance from both the Labour Party, which leads the government coalition and, in an unusual alliance between political arch rivals, from the Conservative Party. The small Center Party, also a member of the left-center coalition that continued to back Norway’s presence in Afghanistan when it assumed government power in 2005, also opposes a formal evaluation of the Afghan mission at this point.

“We can’t have evaluations and investigations of everything here at home,” Ivar Kristiansen of the Conservative Party told newspaper Aftenposten late last week. He said the Conservatives are open to participation in a cooperative evaluation along with Norway’s allies when the operation is actually over, but not now.

‘Unwarranted and almost improper’
Svein Roald Hansen, Labour’s spokesman on foreign affairs, doesn’t support calls for an independent, Norwegian evaluation of the Afghan involvement either, and even warns against it. Lars Peder Brekk of the Center Party agrees, calling any evaluation now “unwarranted and almost improper,” since some Norwegian troops remain in Afghanistan. “We can discuss this when all the soldiers are out,” Brekk said, but added that any evaluation should be conducted by military experts, not necessarily the politicians.

It was some questions raised by a top military expert, Gen Robert Mood, though, that sparked debate over Afghanistan late last summer, and the head of the military’s special forces, Col Eirik Johan Kristoffersen, is among those calling for an evaluation of the Norwegian involvement. “It’s very healthy to go through it all, also the civilian contribution,” Kristoffersen told Aftenposten. Norwegian Defense Chief Harald Sunde is reluctant to comment, calling it a “political issue.”

Debate heated up last week when Bård Vegar Solhjell, a government minister for the Socialist Left party (SV) now in charge of environmental issues, countered the assessment of his own government colleague, Defense Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen, and called the war in Afghanistan “unsuccessful” and “a serious mistake.” Strøm-Erichsen and her Labour colleague Espen Barth Eide, the foreign minister who formerly headed defense, had called it a “success.” SV has always been against the war, though, and the party has long opposed Norway’s membership in NATO. They question whether war is the best way to fight terrorism.

Former Afghan staff seek protection
Meanwhile, many Aghans who worked for Norwegian defense forces as translators or cooks in Maimana, Faryab, for example, are now seeking asylum in Norway, reported newspaper VG on Thursday. Nearly 100 Afghans want refuge in Norway, fearing they’ll be subject to reprisal at home without the protection of their foreign employers.

VG reported that most of the 44 translators working for Norwegian troops were dismissed when the soldiers started leaving Afghanistan in September, and given four weeks’ pay. One of them told VG that “after the Norwegians left, the situation in Faryab is much worse. More people are being killed. And we who worked for the Norwegian forces are being threatened.”

Norwegian government officials aren’t commenting on whether they’ll take responsibility for the people who once aided the Norwegian troops.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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