Twenty years of Afghanistan – Start of an evaluation

Speech by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg

  • 06 Oct. 2021 -
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  • Last updated: 06 Oct. 2021 12:15

(As delivered)

Minister Kramp-Karrenbauer,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Twenty years ago, on September the 11th 2001,
nearly three thousand people from over 90 countries were killed in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
Germans among them.
The events of that day were a stark reminder of the persistent threat of international terrorism to our homelands.

All NATO Allies agreed to go into Afghanistan in support of the United States.
We had a clear goal.
To prevent Afghanistan from serving as a safe haven for terrorists who threaten our nations.
We fulfilled that goal.
Our military mission was not in vain.
For two decades there have been no terrorist attacks on Allied soil organised from Afghanistan.

This is thanks to the hundreds of thousands of troops from NATO and partner countries,
including 93,000 Germans soldiers,
who deployed on NATO’s largest military operation.

At the same time, the international community, supported by our military presence, engaged in nation building and political reform.
Helping to create the conditions for Afghans to make significant social and economic progress. 

I am grateful to all who served under the NATO flag.
And I honour the sacrifice of the thousands of troops – from Allies, partners, and Afghanistan – who have paid the ultimate price.
Including 59 German troops.

Germany contributed to the NATO presence in Afghanistan from the very beginning. 
The significant troop contribution and Germany’s role as a lead nation in the north, were critical. 
I met with many of those troops in Mazar-i-Sharif and Kabul.
And I was deeply impressed by their commitment and their professionalism.

Our mission in Afghanistan shaped a generation of NATO soldiers.
And strengthened our ability to work together,
especially in the fight against terrorism.

But we never intended to stay in Afghanistan forever.
Last year, the US agreed with the Taliban that they would withdraw their troops.
And after many rounds of consultations, all Allies agreed to follow the US and withdraw their remaining troops. 
This was not an easy decision.

Whether we stayed or not, we knew there were risks.
If we ended our military mission there was a risk the Taliban could return.
If we stayed, we faced the risk of an open-ended mission.
With further violence, more civilian casualties and attacks on our troops.

So we were clear-eyed in our decision.
But no one anticipated such a rapid collapse of the Afghan political and military leadership.
This is a tragedy for the Afghan people.
And heart-breaking for all of us who have supported the Afghans over two decades.

The international community is watching. 
And will hold the Taliban accountable for their commitments. Including on terrorism, safe passage, and human rights.

So all of us in the international community, NATO but also the UN, the EU and all our nations,
We all face hard questions about what did not work – and what did.

I have launched a thorough assessment in NATO of our engagement.
And I welcome the official start of the German government’s lessons learned process today.
I thank Minister Kramp-Karrenbauer for her important initiative.
And for her leadership.

It is clearly too early to draw conclusions.
But one thing is clear.
The crisis in Afghanistan does not change the need for North America and Europe to stand together in a more dangerous and competitive world.

With Russia’s aggressive actions.
The continued threat of terrorism. 
China flexing its economic and military muscles.
Sophisticated cyber-attacks.
The proliferation of nuclear weapons.
And the security impact of climate change.

These are challenges that no country, and no continent can face alone. 

So once again let me thank the men and women of the German armed forces.
And also the civilians – diplomats, aid workers.
Who have done their best in Afghanistan.
Under challenging conditions.
Working shoulder to shoulder.

And thank you for Germany’s continued commitment to our NATO Alliance.  
Whatever answers we reach on our engagement in Afghanistan, it is vital for our security that we continue to stand together.