Europeans continued to cut back their contributions to NATO, despite mixed evidence of Afghan capabilities. France sped up its departure, but US decisions overshadow all European choices.
Europeans have now largely ceded decision-making over Afghanistan to the US. Their common goal remains a smooth transfer of responsibility for security to Afghan forces in 2014. By the end of 2012, there were just over 100,000 NATO troops in the country, of which approximately 28,000 came from EU member states, compared with 68,000 Americans. The majority of European governments have stuck to pre-existing plans to reduce their deployments over the next two years. For example, Spain, which has cut back military commitments in response to its financial problems, has not pulled back from this mission. The main exception is France. Then-president Nicolas Sarkozy had promised to bring forces home before the 2014 deadline, but President François Hollande accelerated this process. French troops ceased combat operations in November, although some remain in training and technical roles. The largest European force contributors are the UK, Germany, and Italy. The UK will significantly cut its presence in 2013.
2012 was a relatively successful year for the EU’s Police Mission in Afghanistan, which has previously been the target of major criticisms. The mission has focused on developing the Afghan National Police staff college, and (sometimes very limited) training continued at a good pace throughout the year. However, the mission was frustrated by slow progress in constructing the college’s long-term home. More fundamentally, there are serious concerns about corruption in the police and its ability to maintain order after international forces depart (the Afghan army is making better progress).
There are still questions over the size of the US presence in Afghanistan after 2014, but European governments are keen to leave. Germany used its two-year stint on the UNSC in 2011–2012 to help the UN prepare for post-NATO Afghanistan and resolve problems over sanctions blocking talks with the Taliban. There are signs that negotiations with Taliban leaders, frequently delayed, will now gather pace. But the prospects for stability in Afghanistan remain grim and Europe’s ability to shape events very limited.
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