Afghanistan: Tugendhat says ‘this is what defeat looks like’
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Two decades after EU leaders first agreed to set up a 50,000-60,000-strong force but failed to make it operational, EU states are once again aiming to create a 5,000-strong “first entry force”. They want a deal on its design by March 2022.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he wanted to see the bloc create a military rapid response force to intervene in future crises and help stabilise fragile democracies abroad.
The EU’s foreign affairs chief believes now is the time to gain military independence from the United States.
Last weekend he called for a European expeditionary force of 50,000 men “that can act in situations such as we are now seeing in Afghanistan”.
European government leaders were critical of the unilateral action by the US.
President Charles Michel of the European Council also said he wants the EU to become strategically independent as soon as possible.
He said: “We do not need another such geopolitical event to grasp that the EU must strive for greater decision-making autonomy and greater capacity for action in the world.”
Two senior officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, voiced frustration that the EU, an economic power, was not able to protect Kabul airport for another three days beyond the August 31 US withdrawal deadline to allow for more evacuations.
France, Germany and non-EU member Britain were among those wanting more time to complete evacuations of their citizens and Afghans during a huge airlift mounted by Western forces after the Taliban took control of the country on August 15.
The EU chiefs’ proposals sparked the fury of Nexit Denktank campaigners, accusing europhiles in Brussels of plotting to transform the bloc in a union of “provinces” rather than member states.
They blasted: “The EU says we need to create an EU army with 5,000 soldiers at the beginning (first they said 50,000).
“Does everyone now understand that the EU is not a trade union?
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“The unelected EU wants to become a country with the Netherlands and other countries as a province, against the will of the people.
“We don’t need the EU for trade.
“The British, the Swiss and actually the whole world outside the EU prove that. Of course, state media (pro-EU) are again quick to let their own handpicked ‘experts’ tell you how necessary this is.
“Plans about more EU integration, such as EU taxes, EU debt and an EU army, are only made up by people who don’t feel like Dutch or Spaniards.
“These people feel exclusively citizens of the EU. They are EU nationalists.
“Nothing more and nothing less.
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NATO supports such views and the United States has urged Europeans to invest in deployable troops, as long as European soldiers are not drawn from its operations around the world.
The sense of paralysis over Afghanistan in EU capitals was particularly strong because the 6,000-strong US military force used to secure Kabul airport was roughly the same size as the EU battlegroups that the bloc has had since 2007 but not used.
It was also a case of deja-vu. In the 1990s, EU governments proved unable to act as a group in the Balkan wars and relied on US-led NATO to stop the bloodshed on their doorstep.
“We must strengthen Europe so that we never have to leave it up to the Americans,” Armin Laschet, Germany’s conservative candidate to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor, said during a debate for this month’s federal election.
The EU’s rotating battlegroups need the approval of all 27 EU states and generally require an authorising resolution from the United Nations Security Council. Previous efforts to deploy in Chad and Libya failed.
Disputes over funding are an issue.
One solution could be to break up the battlegroups into smaller units to make them more flexible and more deployable, according to Niklas Novaky, an EU defence specialist at the Wilfred Martens Centre in Brussels.
“Otherwise it’s like playing roulette, because today you need a battlegroup led by an EU state that has a specific interest in the crisis of the day,” Mr Novaky said.
A senior EU official declined to comment on the status of the battlegroups or who was the current lead country. No public information has been made available for several years.
The EU will present a draft proposal of a “first entry force” in November and wants a deal when France, the EU’s leading military power, takes over the six-month EU presidency from January.
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