Norway ‘betraying’ Afghan colleagues

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A former chief of the Norwegian Army who went on to become a UN special envoy in the Middle East is accusing Norwegian officials of turning their backs on their former employees in Afghanistan. Retired Lt General Robert Mood claims the Norwegian government has a responsibility for Afghans who helped Norwegians now being pulled out of the war-torn country.

The now-retired Lt Gen Robert Mood was also Norway’s top military envoy to NATO in Brussels. He claims many Norwegians owe their lives to the locally employed Afghans who helped them over the past 20 years, and now are threatened by the Taliban. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Torbjørn Kjosvold

Mood, who’s been described as both “a soldier and a diplomat,” is now speaking out against Norway’s refusal to grant aslyum to more of the Afghans who worked as interpreters, cultural advisers and aides for the Norwegian military and Norway’s embassy in Kabul, especially during NATO’s operations over the past 20 years.

“This is a betrayal of those who put their lives in our hands and who have worked for us,” Mood told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) this week. “It’s like leaving your comrades on the battlefield. You just don’t do that.”

Mood, who served as president of Norway’s Red Cross after retiring from the military, claims “several Norwegian lives were saved because of the locally employed Afghans.” They were often hired to advise and help Norwegian troops communicate while stationed in Afghanistan, and are now prime targets of the violent and extremist Islamists in the Taliban, which is violently regaining control of the country.

Mood, who also served as the UN’s envoy in Syria, stressed how not only the Norwegian military is pulling out of Afghanistan along with the US and NATO, but also how Norway’s own foreign ministry is recalling embassy workers and advising all Nowegians to leave the country as it descends into war and chaos once again. The ministry itself cited “frequent attacks” in the country and how unsafe the situation is, yet is leaving most of its local employees to fend for themselves. The government and immigration agency UDI (Utlendingsdirektoratet) expects a sharp increase in asylum applications, while already rejecting many applications for residence permission in Norway from local residents who earlier worked with Norwegian forces.

Solberg won’t help them
Prime Minister Erna Solberg of the Conservative Party, now running for re-election, has claimed that her government has no special responsibility for its local employees in Afghanistan. She conceded to news bureau NTB that the US’ decision to pull out of Afghanistan by the end of August came as a surprise, also for its other NATO allies, and was a “challenging” message to receive.

“But when the US pulls out, there’s no reason that we should stay,” Solberg told NTB. “We went in with our allies and we’ll go out with our allies. That’s what we’ve said all along.” She added that she still hopes Afghan authorities can reach an agreement with the Taliban: “I think we all understand that the Taliban will demand to be part of  running Afghanistan and the hope is for a peace settlement, although the Taliban’s willingness to negotiate doesn’t seem very strong at the moment.”

Mood accuses Prime Minister Erna Solberg, shown here at the recent NATO summit, of walking away from Norway’s responsibility to its employees in Afghanistan. PHOTO: SMK/Torbjørn Kjosvold

She does not agree that Norway’s military presence in Afghanistan over the past 20 years, and its pullout now, makes Norway responsible for taking in war refugees from Afghanistan. “The whole world must realize that pulling out creates turbulence, but I won’t say we have any great responsibility for that,” Solberg told NTB. “We have been in Afghanistan at the invitation of Afghanistan’s government and based on a UN mandate.”

She added that she has “no number” in mind over how many refugees Norway should take in. Those who manage to find their own way to Norway and apply for asylum “will have their applications handled in line with our asylum systems.” Her government has earlier decided to take in a total 3,000 refugees approved by the UN worldwide.

Danish radio has reported, meanwhile, that the US has decided to evacuate all Afghan employees who have helped the Americans during operations. Australia, Great Britain, France and Germany are dong the same. The fact that Norway is not doing the same puts its Afghan employees at risk along with Norway’s reputation.

“It’s morally corrupt and a risk for Norway’s reputation in future operations,” Mood, now politically active in the Greens Party, told NRK. He stressed that local employees left behind in Afghanistan are “being left in a society where the Taliban systematically kills Afghans who have cooperated with foreigners.”

Norwegian officials have given some Afghans currently employed by the military or the embassy residence permission in Norway, but not former employees. Nor will their applications for asylum be reconsidered, even as the pullout puts their lives in danger. “There will be no re-evaluations for those whose applications were rejected earlier,” state secretary in the justice ministry, Hilde Barstad of the Conservatives, told NRK.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund