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Running for the door

April 20, 2012

While NATO once wanted to instill democracy before leaving Afghanistan, the alliance now seems satisfied a civil war isn't tearing the country apart as it withdraws troops, says DW's Christoph Hasselbach.


It was not very long ago that NATO was assuring the world that it would remain in Afghanistan for as long as necessary and that combat troops would not be withdrawn until Afghan security forces could replace them. And that's still the line, officially anyway.

But NATO is sugar-coating the figures in order to get out of Afghanistan as quickly as possible. Last Sunday, Taliban fighters were able to push into the center of Kabul's most highly security districts and fire on government buildings, Western embassies and even the international security forces' warehouse. While the military use of their attack is questionable, it was of more symbolic importance.

If an attack like this could take place while some 130,000 foreign soldiers were still present, what would happen when they leave the country?

More pressure on politicians

Christoph Hasselbach
Christoph Hasselbach is DW's Brussels correspondentImage: DW

Still, NATO officials and defense ministers from the alliance's member countries are falling over themselves to praise the Afghan security forces' "professional behavior." The truth is that the military situation doesn't matter and that the "running for the exit" that NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has continually warned of has already begun. Countries participating in the mission are weary of it.

The general public - whether in the United States, Germany or anywhere else - is asking itself if the mission's human and material sacrifice has been worth it and is increasingly coming to the conclusion that it hasn't been. In addition, the security troops in Afghanistan are seen more and more as an occupying force and the most recent set of pictures American soldiers posing with dead Afghans has only strengthened that view. That's one reason Afghan President Hamid Karzai has pushed for an accelerated withdrawal of foreign troops. No government can ignore the pressure coming from home as well as Afghanistan.

Costly undertaking

The greatest danger is that Western countries run blindly from Afghanistan and lose everything their large sacrifices have achieved in the country. Way back at the beginning the goal was to institute democratic structures and rights for women. Now with even the most basic stability in danger, it seems to be enough for NATO that the country is not torn apart by civil war.

The 2014 withdrawal date will not change for military reasons but could for political ones. Even if it is difficult to accept, there are two things that need to happen. First, the withdrawal needs to a coordinated one. At the moment it appears that every country is deciding on its own. Second, it needs to be clear to NATO alliance members that withdrawal does not mean they can forget about Afghanistan. Funding and training for Afghan security forces will be crucial for years.

Although no guarantees can be made about Afghanistan's future, it is clear that the country will once again fall into the hands of the Taliban if the West abandons Afghanistan. That's a situation that would once again raise the question: What was the point of all the sacrifice?

Author: Christoph Hasselbach / sms
Editor: Rob Mudge