Taliban moves into Norway’s embassy

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Nearly 60 members of the Taliban have moved into Norway’s and Denmark’s embassy complex in Kabul, after it was evacuated and closed in mid-August. They allowed a reporter and photographer from Oslo-based newspaper Aftenposten to visit, however, and promised they were simply “taking care” of the embassy at present.

The main entrance to the Norwegian and Danish embassy complex, which was evacuated and closed when the Kabul fell to the Taliban. PHOTO: Forsvaret

“This area still belongs to your country,” a Taliban member identified as Amir Mohammed Mohammed told Aftenposten. “You’ll get it back. We’re just looking after it.”

Aftenposten’s reporting team wrote this week that they got a friendly reception when they showed up at the embassy located in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighbourhood. It was evacuated and closed on August 14, just before Kabul fell to the Taliban and the extremist Islamic group seized power in Afghanistan.

Taliban members told Aftenposten that 56 of them were now living at the embassy complex, with one of them spotted using an embassy iron to smooth out a shirt. They even apologized for untidy surroundings, blaming it on theft and vandalism that occurred before the Taliban arrived. Norway’s and other NATO allies’ rushed evacuation ended 20 years of Norwegian and NATO presence in Afghanistan.

Norwegian embassy staff had already moved out equipment and documents, on instructions from the foreign ministry in Oslo. Aftenposten reported that lots of damaged computers and other devices could still be seen at the embassy, intentionally destroyed for security purposes. An official portrait of Norway’s King Harald and Queen Sonja had been removed and taken back to Norway, while other official plaques and items featuring Norway’s national emblem were also intentionally damaged in order to keep them from being misused by the group long known for brutal terrorism.

Taliban examined skis and a rowing machine
Left behind and intact, however, were Norwegian books and even a CD with Norwegian Christmas songs, while a DVD with a children’s film was demonstratively destroyed by an elderly Taliban member. Aftenposten reported how Taliban members seemed puzzled by an old pair of Norwegian cross-country skis found at the embassy along with a rowing machine apparently used for exercising by the departed Norwegian ambassador. The embassy’s wine collection, however, had been brought up from the cellar and was being destroyed.

Asked what the Norwegian government thinks about extremists now operating on what’s still officially Norwegian territory, foreign ministry spokesperson Trude Måseide told Aftenposten that “the most important thing, given that the Taliban have gone into the Norwegian and Danish embassy complex, is that documents and equipment were either destroyed or moved out.”

To see Aftenposten’s photos of its visit to the Norwegian embassy in Kabul, click here (external link to Aftenposten’s website, text in Norwegian only).

On Friday, exactly one month after the frantic departure from Kabul, Norway’s foreign ministry was criticized by former UN envoy and retired head of the Norwegian Army Robert Mood, for opting not to leave any Norwegian diplomats in Kabul. He claimed Norway abandoned its mission to “lead on behalf of the nation” and continue to assist in the evacuation.

A few days later the ministry sent Norway’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Ole Andreas Lindeman, back to Kabul along with Norwegian police and special forces. They then worked under chaotic conditions, and managed to evacuate more than 1,000 people until the Taliban ordered all foreigners to leave by September 1.

“It’s exactly in a situation like that when you expect the ministry to have crisis plans and be prepared to leave a small group to coordinate and lead on behalf of the nation,” Mood, also a former head of Norway’s Red Cross, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).

Audun Halvorsen, a state secretary at the ministry, defended how the evacuation was handled. “In light of the situation at the airport in Kabul, where it was extremely chaotic with thousands of people storming the runway and the airport closed for nearly 24 hours, it was necessary to get our diplomatic employees out,” Halvorsen said. He stressed that round-the-clock operations were set up at the ministry in Oslo to handle calls for help and maintain contact with Norwegian citizens  still in Afghanistan. “We never could have run that type of large-scale crisis operation from the ground there in such a situation,” Halvorsen said.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund