Germany quick to complete troop pullout from Afghanistan

US House votes to expedite visas for Afghan interpreters

By: AFP
Published: 08:29 AM, 30 Jun, 2021
Germany quick to complete troop pullout from Afghanistan
Caption: Soldiers of the German armed forces Bundeswehr listen to a speech of the German Chancellor visiting the Bundeswehr base in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan.–AFP(File photo)
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Germany has completed its troop pullout from Afghanistan, started in May, the defence ministry announced Tuesday, ending a nearly 20-year deployment there alongside US and other international forces.

The announcement of the pullout of German troops, whose presence there was second only to the US forces, came as the US aims to complete its own withdrawal by September 11.

"After nearly 20 years of deployment, the last soldiers of our Bundeswehr have left Afghanistan this evening," said German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer in a statement. "They are on the way back.

"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 added.

On Twitter, the minister offered her thanks to all the 150,000 men and women who had served there since 2001, saying they could be proud of their service.

And she paid tribute to those killed and wounded in service there. "You will not be forgotten," she said.

According to the army, 59 German soldiers have been killed since 2001 in the course of their service in Afghanistan.

The last of the troops were airlifted out of their base at Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan on two German A400 Ms and two US C17s.

- Germany a major contributor -

Before the pull-out began, Germany still had 1,100 soldiers operating as part of the 9,600-strong NATO training and support mission -- second only to the US military presence.

Britain, Italy and Turkey also have a significant military presence there, the five countries between supplying 6,000 members of the mission, called Resolute Support.

Smaller contributors to the force, such as Denmark, Estonia and Spain, have already pulled out their forces.

Germany stepped up its pull-out after US President Joe Biden announced he was pulling US troops out of the country after 20 years there.

In April, Germany's defence ministry had announced it planned to pull out its troops by early July.

Biden aims to have US troops out of Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the devastating Al-Qaeda attacks on the United States.

The pace of the US pull-out has led to speculation that he aims to have them all home before July 4: Independence Day in the United State.

Questioned by AFP about the timetable for the pull-out Tuesday, a NATO spokesman would only say: "The withdrawal of forces is proceeding in an orderly and coordinated manner.

"While we reduce our military presence, we are continuing to support Afghanistan, by ensuring training and financial support for the security forces and the Afghan institutions, by maintaining a diplomatic presence in Kabul and by financing the functioning of the international airport," the sourced added.

The Pentagon declined to comment on the German announcement.

- Fears over Taliban -

The security situation in Afghanistan has been deteriorating for several weeks.

Fighting has surged since early May when the US military began its final withdrawal of troops, with the Taliban claiming to have recently captured more than 100 of the over 400 districts across Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, General Scott Miller, the top US commander in Afghanistan did not rule out conducting air strikes against the Taliban if they pressed on with their campaign.

Some observers fear the Taliban might once again seize the capital Kabul once the Western troops have left, and have expressed fears for the thousands of Afghans who worked along side the international force.

Washington has already announced it is preparing for the evacuation of their Afghan translators.

The international intervention in Afghanistan began on October 7 2001, less than a month after the 9/11 attacks that killed around 3,000 people in the United States.

The country's Islamic fundamentalist Taliban regime had been sheltering Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda movement, which carried out the attacks. Within weeks, US-led forces had overthrown them.

US House vote

The House of Representatives agreed Tuesday to speed the application process for Afghans seeking special immigrant visas, as pressure mounts for Washington to help thousands who face retribution for aiding US forces in Afghanistan.

As the US military draws down in the country ahead of the September 11 deadline announced by President Joe Biden to end America's longest war, concern has surged over the fate of 18,000 Afghan translators, interpreters, drivers and others awaiting word on their US relocation applications.

Wait times routinely stretch for years, and the violence-wracked nation has seen fighting surge with the Taliban claiming substantial territory.

The House measure, which passed in a package of bills by a comfortable bipartisan vote, would waive the requirement to undergo a medical examination for applicants eligible for special immigrant status.

Congressman Jason Crow, a former US Army Ranger who served in Afghanistan and is lead sponsor of the bill, said such a smoothing of the process would shorten approval time by about one month per applicant.

"This bill will save lives, but we aren't done," Crow tweeted. "We must finish the job and evacuate our partners who are at risk."

The measure now heads to the Senate before it can reach Biden's desk.

With fears mounting that the Taliban will punish those who have worked for foreign forces over the past two decades, the White House has said applicants will be relocated outside Afghanistan to finish the visa process.

"Those who helped us are not going to be left behind," Biden told reporters when asked about the plan last Thursday, a day before hosting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the White House.

The US Senate is considering bipartisan legislation to lower the visa eligibility requirement from two years of service to one year, and extend eligibility to the surviving spouses and children of Afghan interpreters who have been killed.

AFP

Agence France-Presse is an international news agency.