Germany and Italy have removed their last remaining soldiers from Afghanistan, ending almost two decades of deployment to the war-torn country alongside U.S. and other coalition troops.
The United States and NATO plan to fully withdraw their militaries from the South Asian nation by September 11 in line with orders by U.S. President Joe Biden. The drawdown process formally started on May 1.
Germany announced its military withdrawal without much fanfare shortly after the last 250 German soldiers were airlifted Tuesday night out of their base in northern Afghanistan.
“After nearly 20 years of deployment, the last soldiers of our Bundeswehr have left Afghanistan this evening," German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said in a statement she tweeted.
“They are on their way home. A historic chapter comes to an end, an intensive deployment that challenged and shaped the Bundeswehr, in which the Bundeswehr proved itself in combat," she wrote.
The minister thanked the 150,000 German men and women who had been part of the mission in Afghanistan since 2001, saying they could be proud of their achievements.
Germany has lost 59 troops, 39 of them in battles or insurgent attacks, during the course of their service, according to the German army. “You will not be forgotten,” said the German defense minister while paying tribute to those killed and wounded in service in Afghanistan.
Germany still had about 1,100 soldiers in the country when Biden announced his withdrawal plans in mid-April. They were part of a non-combatant NATO-led military mission tasked to train, advise and assist Afghan soldiers battling the Taliban insurgency.
A spokesman for Afghanistan’s National Security Council said while NATO countries are winding down their military missions, that does not mean bilateral state-to-state ties are also ending.
“Afghanistan maintains close ties and cooperation with Germany. They have conducted extensive training of our police forces and that collaboration will continue,” said Rahmatullah Andar in a video statement.
Italy said Wednesday its military mission to Afghanistan also had ended after dozens of the last remaining Italian soldiers were flowing out of the country.
Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini made the announcement after Italian troops landed at Pisa’s international airport from the western Afghan city of Herat next to the Iranian border.
Officials said that 50,000 Italian soldiers served in Afghanistan over the past 20 years, and 53 of them died during the course of service while 723 others sustained injuries.
NATO’s senior civilian representative in Afghanistan, Stefano Pontecorvo, reassured Afghans of the alliance’s continued engagement as it completes the withdrawal of the military forces.
“This is not the end of our partnership. Together, we are entering a new phase in our relationship,” Pontecorvo said in a vide message his official released. “The military may be leaving but my civilian office and myself will be staying and we are committed to supporting the Afghan security forces through financial assistance and through training.”
Fighting has surged across Afghanistan since U.S.-led international forces began leaving. Taliban insurgents claim to have captured more than 100 of the country’s 419 districts within the past two months.
A spokesman for NATO’s Resolute Support mission told AFP the withdrawal of their forces is proceeding in an “orderly and coordinated manner.”
The Taliban advances have raised fears they aim to regain control of Afghanistan by force once all international forces exit the country.
The U.S.-led international coalition invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, just days after the terror strikes on American cities that killed nearly 3,000 people.
The military invasion ousted the Islamist Taliban from power for sheltering al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden and his aides, whom the United States says plotted the carnage. The Taliban later launched a deadly insurgency against Afghan and foreign troops. Now, they currently control or hotly contest nearly half of Afghan territory.
The foreign military drawdown stems from a February 2020 deal Washington negotiated with the Taliban to end what has been the longest war in U.S. history. In return, the insurgents stopped attacks on international forces and pledged to prevent terrorists from using Afghan soil for foreign attacks.
The Taliban also opened peace talks in Qatar last September with representatives of the U.S.-backed Afghan government. But the dialogue has since stalled without making any significant progress, nor has the process eased hostilities between the two Afghan rivals.
The U.S. commander of foreign troops in Afghanistan said Tuesday he was deeply concerned about the deteriorating security situation.
Gen. Austin Scott Miller, who is overseeing the troop exit, told reporters in the Afghan capital, Kabul, that the overall security situation “is not good,” saying recent insurgent territorial gains were concerning.
Brown University’s Costs of War Project estimated in April this year that the two-decade-long war in Afghanistan had killed 241,000 people, including more than 2,400 American soldiers, and cost the United States $2.26 trillion to date.
Some Information from Agence France-Presse was used in this report.