NATO’s mission in Afghanistan ends after 2 decades: sources

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American soldiers wait on the tarmac in Logar province, Afghanistan, Nov. 30, 2017. (AP File Photo)
American soldiers wait on the tarmac in Logar province, Afghanistan, Nov. 30, 2017. (AP File Photo)

 NATO’s military mission in Afghanistan has ended after almost 20 years, according to diplomatic and military sources. Foreign troops still in the country – such as those from the United States and Turkey – after the departure of most NATO-country soldiers are solely under the control of their national chains of command, the sources told German Press Agency (dpa). This means the bloodiest military mission in the history of the alliance has drawn to a close.

The decision not to officially communicate the end of the military mission has to do with the fact that the operational plan is still formally in place. The U.S. invaded Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Washington had triggered NATO’s mutual defense clause for the first time ever, and allies soon followed them into the country.

Turkey, whose forces in Afghanistan have always consisted of noncombatant troops, has offered to guard Hamid Karzai International Airport as questions remain on how security will be assured along major transport routes and at the airport, which is the main gateway to the capital Kabul. The security of the airport is crucial for the operation of diplomatic missions out of Afghanistan as Western forces pull out.

At the end of a series of meetings with NATO leaders on the sidelines of the most recent alliance summit, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stated that his country was seeking Pakistani and Hungarian involvement in the mission in Afghanistan following the departure of the U.S.-led NATO force.

However, the Taliban have opposed Ankara’s proposal, saying that Turkey should also withdraw its troops in line with the 2020 deal for the pullout.

By Sept. 11 at the latest, around 2,300-3,500 remaining U.S. troops and roughly 7,000 allied NATO forces are scheduled to leave Afghanistan, ending nearly 20 years of military engagement. There are concerns that the Afghan government and its security forces may be ill-prepared for the withdrawal and that the country may descend into chaos.

The Taliban ruled Afghanistan until ousted by a U.S.-led coalition after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in America. In recent weeks Taliban fighters have overrun several districts in southern and northern Afghanistan, convincing government security forces to surrender and seizing their weapons and military vehicles.

The group has captured more than a third of the country’s 400 districts since the U.S. accelerated its final pullout in early May, with the insurgents now holding an arc of territory from the Iranian border to the frontier with China.

After the Taliban routed much of northern Afghanistan in recent weeks, the government is holding little more than a constellation of provincial capitals that must be largely reinforced and resupplied by air.

Afghanistan’s air force was already under severe strain before the Taliban’s lightning offensive overwhelmed the government’s northern and western positions, which will likely put further pressure on the country’s limited aircraft and pilots.