NATO allies pledge to accept more Afghan refugees following US withdrawal
  • When the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, dozens of NATO allies also sent troops.
  • These countries are now accepting refugees and continuing to evacuate Afghans that helped their missions.
  • NATO leaders are largely avoiding criticizing Biden directly.

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Leaders of countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) — the US-led security alliance that includes Canada and most of Europe — are largely sticking together, both in rhetoric and in action, as the crisis in Afghanistan unfolds.

Twenty years ago, NATO countries also sent troops to Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks. The goal was to stabilize the country and ward off a Taliban insurgency. Many are now confronting similar issues as the US, including the task of evacuating civilians and Afghans who assisted NATO forces, and taking responsibility for accepting refugees.

Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary-general of the alliance, backed up President Joe Biden in a press conference on Tuesday.

“Ultimately, the Afghan political leadership failed to stand up to the Taliban and to achieve the peaceful solution that Afghans desperately wanted,” he told reporters. “This failure of the Afghan leadership led to the tragedy we are witnessing today.”

In a speech at the White House on Monday, Biden largely said the same thing. “We gave them every chance to determine their own future,” he said. “What we couldn’t provide them was the will to fight for that future.”

Several countries, including Canada, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany, are pledging to take in refugees. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country would resettle 20,000 Afghans, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly set that number at 10,000. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to accept 20,000 in the long run, though opposition leaders reportedly believe that number to be insufficient, according to The New York Times.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron said his country would assist activists, artists, and journalists in leaving the country, and that 800 Afghans who helped French troops have been evacuated to “French territory.”

But he also said in a televised address that “Europe alone cannot assume the consequences of the current situation,” adding that “dealing with those fleeing the Taliban would need an organised and fair international effort.” Macron drew criticism for saying that his country must “anticipate and protect itself from a wave of migrants.”

Estonia, a small NATO member state that borders Russia, said they could accept just 10 refugees.

While NATO leaders have not criticized Biden outright, signs of frustration are apparent.

“For those who believed in democracy and freedom, especially for women, these are bitter events,” Merkel told party officials.

Other subnational leaders have been more vocal with their censure.

“This does fundamental damage to the political and moral credibility of the West,” said Norbert Röttgen, chairman of the German parliament’s foreign relations committee, according to POLITICO Europe. Röttgen has reportedly known Biden for decades.

Tom Tugendhat, the chair of the UK Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, called the situation in Afghanistan “the biggest foreign policy disaster since Suez,” referring to the 1956 Suez Crisis.

—Tom Tugendhat (@TomTugendhat) August 16, 2021

Similarly, Armin Laschet, Merkel’s successor as the head of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union party, said the withdrawal was “the biggest debacle that NATO has suffered since its founding.”

And Artis Pabriks, Latvia’s defense minister, called out the perceived weakness of the West and Europe.

“This kind of troop withdrawal caused chaos,” Pabriks said, according to The Washington Post. “Unfortunately, the West, and Europe in particular, are showing they are weaker globally.”

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