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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Norway mum on its chaotic exit from Afghanistan

There’s been lots of criticism and disagreement over how Norway handled its hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan after the Taliban seized control in August 2021. Now a foreign ministry evaluation of its chaotic evacuation is sparking more complaints because it continues to be withheld from public review.

Afghan citizens crowed around the airport in Kabul in desperate efforts to escape the Taliban in August 2021. Norwegian officials and defense forces were among those facing a chaotic situation as they also carried out their own evacuation. PHOTO: FSK/Forsvaret

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported this week that the Norwegian foreign ministry still isn’t releasing its evaluation of Norway’s Afghan withdrawal. That’s sparked criticism in Parliament, especially since several other countries including the US and Denmark have released reports of their own withdrawals from the war-torn country.

Norwegian ministry officials, however, claim their report contains classified information that can’t be made public. They also claim they had promised ministry employees who took part in the evaluation that the information they shared wouldn’t be made public.

The internal evaluation was compiled last year but has been kept under wraps. DN first reported on it in December, and could reveal that the withdrawal itself was riddled with conflict. There reportedly was poor communication among various departments within the ministry, allegations that the ministry was late in forming a crisis team to coordinate the evacuation, and that staffing was inadequate.

In one case, Norwegian officials in Afghanistan reportedly evacuated 27 Afghan children without their parents and brought them to Norway. That was described as highly unusual, and there’s been no public debate over what happened with the children or how they’re doing now.

Several political parties including Progress, the Liberals (which shared government power with the Conservatives at the time of the evacuation) and the Greens have asked for the report to be made public, to no avail. Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide of the Labour Party, who assumed his post in October, finally oriented members of Parliament’s defense and foreign affairs committee last week, but DN reported this week that the time and place for the meeting were kept secret and it was held behind closed doors. That means the ministry’s evaluation of its dramatic exit from Afghanistan after 20 troubled years in the country remains under wraps, along with what the government has learned or what systems may have since been improved.

DN reported that Eide himself acknowledged criticism at his meeting with the parliamentary committee, and claimed he would strive for more openness in future evaluations. “We have learned that the evaluation was too narrow and restricted,” he told DN. “In the future we’ll plan for evaluation reports to be made public to a higher degree, and that cooperation across all sectors will be more clear.”

The ministry has further confirmed that there was a need for closer cooperation internally. They also admitted to needing “better systematic sharing of information” around the various challenges facing the ministry’s own employees who were in Afghanistan at the time, along with those facing Norwegian citizens and “others in need of protection.” Norway did manage in the end to evacuate around 1,100 people from Kabul by the Taliban’s deadline set for the end of August 2021.

The Liberal Party is now calling for a parliamentary evaluation of not only Norway’s withdrawal from Afghanistan but also Norway’s role in the country during the final years of the war. An earlier commission examined Norway’s presence in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014, and widely condemned it. The last seven years have not been reviewed. Berglund



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