NATO troops leave Afghanistan, but what kind of country do they leave behind?

By September 11, 2021, all foreign soldiers must leave Afghanistan, exactly twenty years after the 9/11 attacks that triggered the invasion. US President Biden explained this plan yesterday at a NATO meeting. The Netherlands, along with the rest of NATO troops, also leaves before that date.

โ€œ We have always said that we cant stay there without the US,โ€ says demissionary Minister Bijleveld of Defence in the CCEIT Radio 1 News. โ€œOf course, we went there after the attacks in the US and we also need the military support of that country. Nevertheless, it was not an easy decision, we made a huge effort.โ€

According to Bijleveld, the departure creates an uncertain situation. โ€œNo agreements have been made between the Afghan Government and the Taliban. We have to be realistic: the departure can have an impact on the results achieved.โ€

Yet she thinks the mission has succeeded. โ€œOf course not everything is settled now, but the country is no longer a base for terrorists who commit attacks in our capitals. Womens position has also improved, life expectancy has increased and child mortality has fallen.โ€

No more room for good choices

When asked whether the departure is a sensible decision, Thomas Ruttig from the Afghanistan Analysts Network responds firmly: โ€œThere was no room for good choices anymore. The Americans gave the Taliban too much room for manoeuvre in the negotiations last year.โ€

โ€œ Some Afghans think it is ultimately a good thing for NATO to withdraw,โ€ says Jorrit Kamminga of the Clingendael Institute. โ€œBut there is also a lot of fear that it means that many of the freedoms acquired in recent years will fall away. We have no idea what the political reality will be in the future.โ€

Especially among women there is fear. Previously, the Taliban indicated its intention to replace the constitution and the judicial system. The Talibanisation of the own government also plays a role: more restrictions have recently been imposed on women, such as a ban on singing. โ€œWomens organisations are therefore afraid that they will have to surrender freedoms when the international community leaves,โ€ says Kamminga.

Correspondent Aletta Andrรฉ made a report on Maram, who has been playing the piano since her fifth year, and journalist Fatima, who is on a death list:

According to Kamminga, the withdrawal of the troops could also have positive consequences: it was a demand by the Taliban in the peace negotiations. That process may be accelerated with the withdrawal.

What will ultimately result in the withdrawal of foreign troops depends on the political situation following the peace negotiations and possible elections. Some fear that the departure of the international community will also mean the end of President Ghani. โ€œPolitics get out of balance, and that leads to chaos,โ€ says Ruttig. โ€œIt is possible that big battles will not be, but the power will shift. Perhaps politicians will be on the side of the Taliban.โ€

The presence of foreign troops was already a limited means of power. At present, there are fewer than 10,000 soldiers in Afghanistan, while at its peak they were more than 100,000. Most of these men are trainers for the Afghan army, who do not fight themselves.

The Netherlands in Afghanistan

Dutch soldiers have been in Afghanistan since 2002, mainly in the province of Uruzgan. The aim was to work with the Dutch Task Force on the stability, security and reconstruction of the province. Later, the Netherlands trained the Afghan police force in Kunduz. Currently more than 160 Dutch soldiers are stationed in the country for the NATO training mission Resolute Support. Since the start of the mission in Afghanistan, 25 Dutch deaths have been killed in the country.

In February, Minister of Defence Bijleveld announced that another eighty Dutch men are going to Afghanistan. The Cabinet still intends to send them even if the Council of Ministers has yet to formally take that decision. Those men are meant to bridge the troop retreat.

Currently, 36 countries are participating in the NATO Training Mission Resolute Support. In addition to this mission, at least a thousand American commandos are active in Afghanistan:

According to Ruttig, some 300,000 Afghan soldiers have been trained. โ€œThats not nothing, but its not a question whether the training was successful: the American troops are especially important for support and morality.โ€ According to the government, the Afghan army carries out most of the operations independently.

However, the Afghan troops receive financial and material assistance. โ€œFor example, the entire police force is still paid by the international community,โ€ says Kamminga. It is therefore important that thefinancial support continues, โ€œotherwise there is a high probability that everything collapses. If the military are no longer paid, Afghanistan will no longer have a security device.โ€

Nuclear tasks war failed

In addition to the training mission, the US is still to a lesser extent active in anti-terrorism operations. For example, the US Air Force still supports the Afghan army. โ€œThere is evidence that this has prevented the Taliban from conquering inhabited areas,โ€ says Ruttig. โ€œThe loss of the air support is a big blow.โ€

There would still be about 200 to 600 al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. โ€œIn this respect, both core tasks of the war in Afghanistan have failed,โ€ says Kamminga. โ€œThe situation is not stable, and the terrorist threat is still there.โ€

โ€œ Of course you have to leave at some point, that there are still troops now is surprising. In the Netherlands, in 2002, there was a consensus among the government parties that our soldiers should return. But if you look at the earlier conditions, such as the number of attacks and abductions, you might not be able to leave for five or ten years.โ€