Troops start pulling out of Afghanistan

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Norway intends to finally start pulling its remaining NATO troops out of Afghanistan from May 1st. The delayed withdrawal comes after the US and NATO confirmed a new coordinated pullout deadline of September 11, 20 years after the terrorist attacks on the US that led to the lengthy and unsuccessful war against terrorism.

Former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and his defense minister at the time, Grete Faremo (just behind Stoltenberg), visited Norwegian troops in Afghanistan on the 17th of May, Norway’s Constitution Day, back in 2010. Now Stoltenberg is secretary general of NATO, and finally pulling out of Afghanistan after the US set a new and delayed withdrawal date. PHOTO: Statsministerens kontor

Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide told reporters Wednesday evening that the US and its other NATO partners had kept hoping the Taliban and the government in Kabul would agree on a ceasefire and peace pact. That hasn’t happened but the US and NATO will pull out anyway, now under difficult conditions since the Taliban is angry that an initial May 1 pullout deadline wasn’t honoured. Norway, which postponed its own earlier withdrawal, now aims to get its troops safely home by September.

“There’s no reason to believe this will be simple,” Søreide said about the looming pullout over the next four months. Norway, which has been part of the NATO operations in Afghanistan since 2001, only has around 95 troops left in the country, most of them stationed in Kabul, according to the defense ministry’s website.

Søreide said the pullout nonetheless “will be demanding, and we’re left with a choice between more or less bad solutions.” Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that Norwegian forces would, in the meantime, continue in their roles, mostly training Afghanistan’s own special police. The remainder work as medics at a military hospital in Kabul.

Main goal: to please the US
NRK noted how Norwegian commentators have claimed that Norway joined NATO forces in Afghanistan mostly as a means of pleasing the US, often referred to as Norway’s most important ally. The US had been angry that Norway refused to join the invasion of Iraq, so taking part in Afghanistan later was widely viewed as making up for that, especially after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington in 2001.

Norway had more than 9,000 troops in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2012. Ten soldiers were killed. Former Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg was prime minister during much of the period when Norway was most active in Afghanistan. Today he’s secretary general of NATO.

Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide (center) also visited Norwegian troops still in Afghanistan when she served as defense minister. Now she admits that the withdrawal of remaining troops won’t be easy. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Stephen Olsen

A state commission that evaluated Norway’s role in Afghanistan claimed in 2016 that Norway ultimately achieved only one of its three goals: being a good ally for the US. The goal of building a stable, democratic state in Afghanistan was not met, while the goal of preventing Afghanistan from being a base for international terrorists was only partially met.

Søreide said Norway will continue to send financial aid to Afghanistan, even though the Taliban now controls around half of the country. She said the priorities remain programs to strengthen the situation in the country for both girls and women.

Nearly 160,000 Afghans have been killed in the war, including more than 40,000 civilians. New US President Joe Biden said earlier this week that it was time to end the US’ longest war. He put a more positive spin on it, though, claiming that the US had met its goals of finding and killing Osama bin Laden, who masterminded the terrorist attacks in the US, and that the terror organization he led, Al-Qaida, had been fought back. Around 3,000 US troops remain in Afghanistan in addition to 7,000 from other countries.

NRK reported that Russia has criticized the US-NATO pullout, warning that armed conflict between the Taliban and Afghan government troops can increase and undermine ongoing attempts at a peace treaty. The result, warned Russia, can be another bloody civil war.

NewsInEnglish.no/Nina Berglund