European Leaders Point Fingers at the U.S. After Fall of Kabul
(Bloomberg) -- European leaders struggled to mask their frustration with President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw the last U.S. soldiers from Afghanistan and sought to distance themselves from the dramatic scenes unfolding across the war-torn country.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters Monday night that the NATO mission in Afghanistan was “fundamentally dependent” on the U.S. while French President Emmanuel Macron stressed that the Taliban took Kabul from the U.S.-trained forces that Biden had backed in just “a matter of hours, with no resistance.”
“Nobody wants Afghanistan, once again, to be a breeding ground for terror,” U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday, hours after the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. “It’s fair to say the U.S. decision to pull out has accelerated things.”
As members of NATO, the U.K., France and Germany took part in the U.S.-led coalition that toppled the Taliban after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and maintained thousands of soldiers in Afghanistan for most of the last two decades to forge stability and train the Afghan army. They didn’t offer meaningful opposition to Donald Trump’s plan to end the U.S. presence in the country, nor to Biden’s promise to follow through with it.
Yet after the militant group seized control of Kabul much faster than anyone predicted, the European leaders are now faced with the further unraveling of a key country in a volatile region that threatens a humanitarian and refugee crisis. Their challenge is to deflect blame without antagonizing Biden.
“This is an extremely bitter development. Bitter, dramatic, terrible -- especially of course for the people in Afghanistan,” Merkel said in Berlin. “We all made the wrong assessment.”
Earlier on Monday at Kabul’s international airport, thousands of people rushed to try and leave the country. Though Taliban leaders are trying to portray a moderate stance, the fundamentalist group is talking about declaring a new “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” and there are reports it’s already curtailing the rights of women.
Johnson, who is chairing the Group of Seven industrialized nations this year, plans to hold a virtual summit of leaders to discuss the situation. He spoke with Macron on Monday and they agreed to work on a joint United Nations Security Council resolution.
In his address, the French leader stressed the need for a common stance -- on recognizing any future Afghan government and to prevent the kind of migration crisis that crippled the bloc in 2015. And he said he’d do everything he can to ensure Russia, the U.S and Europe respond with one voice. There isn’t much they can do now, though, to alter what’s happening on the ground.
The unexpected turn of events raises pressure on Macron ahead of April’s presidential election, in which he’s widely expected to seek a new mandate. It comes just weeks after he announced plans to cut the number of French troops in Africa’s Sahel region by about half, as he pushes ahead with plans to scale back his country’s largest and most expensive overseas operation.
In Germany, Merkel’s CDU-led bloc is in a tight race to retain control of Europe’s largest economy in elections in September and can ill afford echoes of issues that drove voters away in the past.
It wasn’t just European leaders arguing that the unfolding chaos isn’t their fault.
In a speech in Washington, Biden pointed to Afghanistan’s military and political leaders, saying they both lacked the will to fight. He implied that Ghani led the U.S. astray with promises that were not kept.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.