COLOGNE, Germany — Governments in Germany and other NATO states are alarmed by reports of a significant U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan during the final weeks of the Trump administration.
Fears of a hasty retreat in the middle of unfinished peace talks were stoked on this side of the Atlantic by reports that new Pentagon leaders, seen as loyal to President Donald Trump, could announce a redeployment of thousands of troops this week.
German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said a sudden withdrawal by the Americans, who are vital to coalition operations in the war-torn country, would undermine NATO’s strategy. That plan envisions continued military pressure on Taliban fighters and to train government forces with the goal of setting conditions for an eventual drawdown of all coalition troops.
“Will there be decisions by this White House that deviate from those agreements?” Kramp-Karrenbauer asked during a speech on Tuesday. Ongoing negotiations over Afghanistan’s future have yet to yield success toward a sustainable peace deal, she argued.
“We all have our sensors and feelers switched on, including across the pond,” she said.
Earlier in the day, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg struck a similar chord.
“We now face a difficult decision. We have been in Afghanistan for almost 20 years, and no NATO ally wants to stay any longer than necessary. But at the same time, the price for leaving too soon or in an uncoordinated way could be very high,” Stoltenberg said in a statement.
According to U.S. news reports, the White House is considering reducing the American contingent by almost half, with 2,500 troops to remain. The combined NATO footprint is around 12,000 forces, with Germany’s portion capped at 1,300.
President Trump has made bringing U.S. troops home from Afghanistan and Iraq a key objective of his tenure. Following Trump’s election defeat this month, his term will end on Jan. 20, 2021, with the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.