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US troops withdrawal from Afghanistan: a violation of NATO?

An agreement signed by the US and Taliban on 20th February 2020 set the term for US withdrawal from Afghanistan by 21 May 2021. This negotiation between the US and the Taliban took place without the involvement of the Afghan Government; the US also released 5000 Taliban soldiers as a part of their agreement.

Taliban forces started closing in on the states of Afghanistan, and by Sunday 15th August 2021 their forces closed in on Kabul. Ashraf Ghani, the president of the country fled the country, Afghan forces were defeated, most of the US troops already withdrew from the country, the US ambassador was evacuated and by 30 August 2021, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan was completed. Though this withdrawal was in the US' interest, this has caused widespread

consequences not only for those Afghans who supported the US but also for the neighboring countries that will now have to deal with a Terrorist Group turned into an established Government. The NATO allies will also have to question a failure on their part that they could not eliminate the threat of the Taliban.

What is NATO

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is a military alliance established on April 4, 1949, by signing the North Atlantic treaty ( also called Washington Treaty). NATO sought to create a counterpose to the Soviet army that was stationed in central and eastern Europe after World War II. NATO's purpose is to guarantee the freedom and security of its members through political and military means. Currently, there are 30 member countries in NATO. Every decision that is taken in NATO is based on the collective will of all the member countries, as all the decisions are taken by consensus.

Was the US withdrawal from Afghanistan a unilateral decision?

One of the biggest questions that arise is, was the decision of the US to withdraw troops from Afghanistan a unilateral decision?

The decision of the US to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan began when the US signed an agreement with the Taliban, this negotiation didn't even include the Afghan leaders.

Initially, NATO members had a role in the deployment of soldiers in 2001 and it helped the US to stop Taliban forces from growing because of the reason that the Taliban supported the terrorist group 'Al Qaeda' which was responsible for the infamous 9/11 terror attacks in the US.

NATO supported the US at this moment to get rid of the terrorist group taking shelter and growing in Afghanistan and also helped the US to train Afghan soldiers to deal with those groups. However, this time it was the US's sole decision to withdraw the troops.

So why weren't NATO members included in this negotiation when they too were stakeholders in the Afghanistan invasion back in 2001? There were troops from other countries too who were members of NATO and were helping the US, thus, they too had a stake in this decision and its consequences.

Do US actions count as a violation of the NATO provisions?

The US invaded Afghanistan with NATO allies in 2001 with the motive to destroy the hidden base of the terrorist group Al-Qaeda and kill or capture its leaders who were responsible for the 9/11 attack on the world trade center twin towers. After knowing the Taliban provided a safe haven to Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, US and NATO allies decided to defeat the Taliban and reconstruct Afghanistan.

One of the very heart principles of the NATO treaty is "Collective defence- Article 5", this principle binds all members of NATO together and commits them to protect each other. It states ' An attack against one ally is considered the attack against all the allies'. NATO allies supported the US in invading Afghanistan and destroying bases of Al-Qaeda and defeating Taliban. NATO allies fulfilled the sole principle of the treaty.

But then, reconstructing Afghanistan was solely the decision of the US; to stay back and establish a democratic government and specialized military force in Afghanistan to tackle any terrorist activities in near future. NATO allies backed this decision and as a result, they also stayed back and helped in training Afghan soldiers and rebuilding Afghanistan.

The decision to the withdrawal of the US troops from Afghanistan was communicated to NATO allies but the US didn't consult with NATO allies before signing the deal with the Taliban. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met in Brussels with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and said "we plan to complete the withdrawal of all our troops within a few months." "We went into Afghanistan together, we have adjusted our posture together and we are united in leaving together,".

So what on the face of it may appear as a unilateral decision but in reality was a coordinated move. In a similar way, the US' troops withdrawal from Afghanistan may seem unilateral but it wasn't against any of the provisions of NATO. The US till the last moment of the withdrawal coordinated every moment with its NATO allies till all of them withdrew safely.

Consequences and aftermath:
The chaotic withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan has caused disruptive events for NATO allies, putting pressure on them and making them question the alliance in the post cold war era.

Many countries questioned the US withdrawal and said it was against their country's national interest. Czech President Milos Zeman questioned the legitimacy of the alliance by saying that NATO failed in Afghanistan, and his country should focus on national defense rather than wasting money on the alliance.

The head of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's party, Armin Laschet also said the withdrawal of the US and NATO troops from Afghanistan is the "Biggest debacle" in NATO's history. Thus, this move of withdrawal from Afghanistan is a failure on the part of the NATO allies which was not able to achieve its objective of nation-building. Likewise, it also questions the decision of the US who till now was the lead decision-maker.

The US has been the sole super-power nation since the cold war but with the rise of China's aggression, the US needs to be more clear with its strategies and foreign policy to maintain that status. Till now, with the NATO allies, the UK had been the biggest ally of the US and had been supporting its decisions but since the Afghanistan fallout, the US's credibility is in question now with some NATO allies considering the Afghanistan crisis as a failure which makes them question the objective of the NATO itself.

The Afghanistan fallout is going to affect the NATO allies as well and sooner or later, it may haunt them again since the country is being taken over by a terrorist group, This decision was withdrawn and the deal would have been better if NATO allies were informed beforehand of the US exit from Afghanistan.

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