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This article is part of a Fox News Digital series examining the consequences of the US military withdrawal from Afghanistan one year ago this week.
NATO allies had no choice but to follow the US out of Afghanistan, which gave the impression that member states had “no backbone” for another conflict, experts told Fox News Digital.
“It was clear to all experts that [the withdrawal] meant the great danger of the Taliban taking power in Afghanistan,” Dr. August Hanning, former German state secretary of the Federal Interior Ministry and director of Federal Intelligence Services, explained. “But the prevailing mood in Germany was that government, Parliament and public were tired about the mission and the poor results of the mission in Afghanistan. Therefore, this announcement was also associated with a feeling of relief.”
The Taliban assumed control of Kabul – and the country as a whole – after President Biden ordered a hasty withdrawal of US military forces from Afghanistan that ended on Aug. 30, 2021.
Allies told Fox News Digital that the US provided little advance warning, leaving them to scramble and figure out their own plans. Even in the event that some allies wanted to remain in the country, it would not have been possible without the US presence.
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“We had no choice: We couldn’t possibly have remained without the Americans,” Col. Richard Kemp, a British Army officer who commanded UK forces in Afghanistan in 2003, told Fox News Digital. “We’re a comparatively small army. We don’t have the necessary support to be able to make it have any effect, really, in Afghanistan on our own.”
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace had tried to rally NATO allies to remain in the country in a major coalition after the US had left, but no country agreed to join and support the Afghanistan military against the Taliban insurgents. He told the Daily Mail at the time that he found the US plan to end the conflict “rotten.”
“[It] might have been possible to have a non-American NATO force there, [with] maybe France, Germany, whatever, [but] no member of NATO agreed to do it,” Kemp said. “So Britain was left with no choice but to leave.”
Hanning labeled the US as the “lead nation” on Afghanistan, and said other countries remained “completely dependent” on it for any chance of success. Part of the spiraling situation resulted from the fact that some allies, such as Germany, had grown weary of the decades-long conflict.
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But the general sense that followed the withdrawal was that NATO had appeared weak and suffered a “defeat.”
“The biggest mistake [of the withdrawal] was the lack of coordination between the NATO armed forces,” he said, adding that “from the outside” the withdrawal looked more like “an escape,” drawing comparisons to the end of the Vietnam War.
“In principle, the withdrawal from Afghanistan was certainly a reasonable measure, but my impression is that this withdrawal operation was not well-prepared,” he added. “The other NATO countries had not even been involved in the planning and were not even informed about the specific withdrawal plans.”
Kemp went one step further and claimed that some countries had wanted to withdraw sooner and “wanted to effectively blame the Americans” rather than admit to their own desire to leave.
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“They effectively said we’re going because the Americans were going already,” he argued. “I wanted to stay there, definitely… I thought [different countries] were in many ways just relieved to have the excuse of the American withdrawal to get out.”
Hanning noted that the view of NATO forces in the country changed from “liberators” to an “occupying force,” which was “not a very comfortable role,” and that may have contributed to the desire to leave.
And the withdrawal may have played a role in prompting Russian President Vladimir Putin to push through his invasion of Ukraine. Russia had started to amass its forces on the border of Ukraine in early 2021, with 100,000 troops at the ready by mid-April.
Moscow claimed that the troops and equipment along the border were part of routine “readiness checks” after winter training.
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Kemp believed that Putin “was watching what happened in Afghanistan” and “calculated” that NATO “didn’t have the backbone” to get involved in Ukraine.
“I think my view is that precipitated the invasion of Ukraine,” he said, adding that even with the united support from NATO for Ukraine, the alliance has not fully “repaired that damage” of its image.
Hanning speculated that Putin would have thought NATO was “weakened” following the chaotic invasion and that the member states would have no taste for “getting involved in new military conflicts.”
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“President Biden’s public announcement that the US and NATO would not intervene directly in a possible military conflict certainly eased his decision,” but he stressed the importance of Putin’s fear of a “stronger” Ukraine with NATO support.