Even if NATO rushes to the exits, Afghan collapse is not inevitable (+video)
As French President Hollande promises troop withdrawal this year, and the rest of NATO plans to exit by 2014, Afghanistan's best hope may be the disunity and ill-discipline of the Taliban.
In August 2010, when the Netherlands pulled 1,900 soldiers out of the Afghan province of Urozgan, NATO officials played down the significance of the withdrawal. Dutch Gen. Peter van Uhm praised his troops for restoring peace to their area, but admitted that “a lot still has to happen” in Afghanistan to guarantee the peace.Skip to next paragraph
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Today, as newly elected French President François Hollande visits 3,500 French troops based in the Afghan province of Kapisa, preparing them for an early departure by the end of 2012, NATO officials are wearing the brave face again. At the Afghan summit in Chicago, no NATO official publicly criticized the French leader’s decision following a decisive victory for Hollande’s party, which had promised an early exit from Afghanistan.
“Only France can decide what France does. It will be conducted in good understanding with our allies, especially President Obama, who understands the reasons, and in close consultation with Afghan authorities," President Hollande told reporters in Kabul during a brief stopover. “Without having totally disappeared, the terrorist threat from Afghanistan to our and our allies' territory has been partially curbed," he added.
In his meetings with French soldiers in Kapisa, Hollande came close to his own “Mission Accomplie” moment, telling his troops that one reason for their early departure is that “simply, you have carried out your mission."
In NATO’s 130,000 man International Security and Assistance Force in Afghanistan, the departure of 3,500 soldiers is not significant, particularly if the bulk of those 126,500 other soldiers will be leaving in two years’ time anyway. President Obama himself plans to withdraw some 30,000 US troops this year, and most, but not all, of the remaining 60,000 troops by 2014. Afghan officials say that Afghan Army soldiers will take over the French base in Nijrab, Kapisa, and with it, the responsibility of maintaining security in that northeastern part of the country.
Yet as the Dutch departure of 2,000 troops in 2010 – prompted by a resounding defeat of the pro-NATO government of Jan-Peter Balkenende – and the French departure in 2012 – prompted by the defeat of Nicolas Sarkozy – shows, European patience with the 10-year Afghan operation has worn out. The rush for the exits has begun.