The Last Of Afghanistan: Spain Withdraws After 19 Years

After lowering the flag at the Afghan base Hamid Karzai, the last Spanish soldiers deployed in Afghanistan arrived this Thursday at the Torrejón de Ardoz air base. This puts an end to a presence that began in February 2002, when a 450-strong military contingent joined the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force, launched in December 2001 and under NATO command from August 2003). When it comes to establishing a balance of what happened during those 19 years, it is inevitable that the dominant sensation is bittersweet.

On the one hand, it is easy to get carried away by the large numbers and stay with the millions of kilometers traveled on patrols, the thousands of disabled improvised explosives, the kilometers of paved roads, the more than 27,000 Spanish soldiers who have rotated through Afghanistan, the most 3,500 million euros spent there… But, as a human counterpoint, the 102 lives lost immediately stand out– 62 in the Yak-42 accident in May 2003; 17 in the Cougar helicopter in August 2005; 14 due to attacks by insurgent groups… -, which makes it the mission in which our armed forces have suffered the highest number of casualties.


Of course, from a strictly military point of view, participation in international operations such as those led by Washington in that country – ISAF and, since January 2015, Apoyo Decidido – has provided very valuable learning. After a first stage in Kabul, Spanish troops ended up taking over, as early as 2005, the Herat base and the Qala – i – Now PRT (Provincial Reconstruction Team). Since then, and with a contingent that at its peak reached 1,500 men and women, Spain was fundamentally in charge of stabilizing the situation in its area of ​​action, until, at the end of 2013, it transferred that task to its own Afghan forces and, already in the framework of Determined Support, went on to assume advisory and training tasks for the Afghan forces.

All this has provided a unique opportunity to improve the capabilities and operability of the Spanish uniformed officers, rubbing shoulders, with outstanding note, with contingents from other countries. From a military point of view, the experience has led to a multitude of lessons learned that ultimately lead to an improvement in national defense capacity. And that counting on the fact that the established mandate implied that the Spanish military would not participate in combat tasks in the front line and that their main deployment would be limited to the provinces of Herat and Badghis, in the northwest, far from the main battle fronts.

That does not mean that, in the balance sheet, it is necessary to note the lack of waistline of the military commanders when interacting with the media, applying a fierce secrecy that, ultimately, implies a lack of transparency before society . Likewise, their determination to pass off as humanitarian action what was done in the aforementioned PRT, when in reality they were actions that served the fulfillment of the military mission (CIMIC, civil-military collaboration, in Otanic slang) and, therefore Therefore, they did not conform to the basic principles that guide humanitarian actors.

Much more negative, however, is the assessment that can be made from the political point of view.

In general terms, and apart from an official speech that has tried to present the Spanish contribution as a commitment to the stability of Afghanistan and the well-being of its population, it can be concluded that the fundamental reason for the deployments carried out looks much more to Washington than Kabul. Already in the first stage it was clear that the successful withdrawal of the contingent deployed in Iraq (2004), in the framework of an illegal war led by the United States, provoked a major anger in NATO and, above all, in Washington. And the way to heal the wound, with the United States making its displeasure with Madrid well visible, was to increase the volume of the Spanish contingent in Afghanistan, although for this it would have to withdraw the one deployed up to that moment (March 2006) in Haiti. Thus, it was addressed, not to Afghan needs, but to the urgency to regain a good relationship with the United States, although this would entail the subsequent anger of Brazil (as leader of the UN operation in Haiti, MINUSTAH) and a loss of prominence. in Latin America.

On the other hand, there is nothing to indicate that the successive Spanish governments during these years have had their own strategy, as evidenced by the fact – shared with many other governments – that the withdrawal has been precipitated as soon as Joe Biden has decided to close that nefarious chapter of American military history.

Everything has been limited, in essence, to making Washington as happy as possible, and that inevitably makes us share its wrong approaches and, likewise, an unmitigated defeat. Errors and defeat that now become even more visible when the Taliban reemerge as the benchmark actor, the government led by the Ghani-Abdullah duo shows its impotence to stabilize the country and the basic needs of the 40 million Afghans continue to be neglected. . After the general disbandment there is an Afghanistan, on the one hand, without democracy, without the rule of law and without well-being and, on the other, with the jihadists and the Taliban on the rise. Bad balance, in short.

* Jesús A. Núñez Villaverde – Co-director of the Institute for Conflict Studies and Humanitarian Action (IECAH)



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