Why was the August evacuation from Afghanistan so rushed? Who misjudged the situation and why? A committee of inquiry was formed to examine these and other questions.
Committees of inquiry are a lot of work. That’s why the Bundestag only sets them up when something has gone seriously wrong. The frantic evacuation from Afghanistan in the summer of 2021 is one such case.
“The German Bundestag has a duty to ensure transparent clarification,” said the designated committee chairman Ralf Stegner (SPD) at a first plenary debate on Thursday.
The twelve-member body, which is expected to start work on July 7, is intended to clarify what the Federal Government, the Bundeswehr, the intelligence services and the Federal Police decided and did before, during and shortly after the last German soldiers and diplomats left Afghanistan – and also who was responsible for individual decisions at the time.
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) supports the investigation. Germany has borne great responsibility in Afghanistan over the past two decades. That is why it is important to learn from the mistakes of the Bundeswehr mission together and not by assigning blame, in order to do better in the future.
Agree on need for investigation
Not only the coalition factions are behind the application, which defines the tasks of the committee of inquiry. The CDU and CSU are also on board. Union faction vice Johann Wadephul (CDU) explained that the processes had to be processed critically and without regard to persons and offices. “We owe that in particular to the people we sent into this mission there.” Criticism came only from the AfD and the left: They basically want to examine the sense of the entire Afghanistan mission and not just the hasty withdrawal.
In concrete terms, the aim is to find out by examining documents and questioning witnesses who made which decisions and when, for example to clear the embassy or to protect local Bundeswehr employees. In order to depict as many perspectives as possible, it is also being considered to ask former Afghan employees of German institutions – so-called local staff – about their experiences.
The Committee is considering a period beginning on February 29, 2020. On this day, the US government – then still under President Donald Trump – signed the so-called Doha Agreement with the Taliban. In return for the withdrawal of US troops in the Qatari capital, Doha, the Islamists undertook, among other things, to hold peace talks with the Afghan government and participate in an inclusive government. As we now know, things turned out very differently.
The investigation is scheduled to end on September 30, 2021 – a month after the last US soldiers left Kabul Airport. Dramatic scenes played out there in the second half of August, when foreigners and Afghans tried to get a seat on a plane to leave the country because they feared a repeat of the Islamists’ rule that ended in 2001.
Bundeswehr was in the country for 20 years
The Bundeswehr withdrew from Afghanistan at the end of June 2021 after almost 20 years. In August, after the triumph of the militant Islamist Taliban, she took part in an evacuation mission for those in need of protection, including some Afghans who had previously worked as local staff for German institutions in the country. The Taliban took power in the capital Kabul in mid-August without much resistance from the Afghan armed forces. The then Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) as well as the then Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) and other members of the old black-red federal government have admitted misjudgments of the situation in the Central Asian crisis country.
According to government information, 4,587 people came to Germany via the Bundeswehr airlift, which also flew people out of other countries, including 3,849 Afghans and 403 German nationals.
The left has accused the old and new federal governments of not having done enough for local workers. Many of them are still waiting in Afghanistan for an opportunity to leave the country. Some former local staff went into hiding fearing revenge by the Taliban.
The committee of inquiry does not concern itself with the question of whether the long-standing deployment of the Bundeswehr in Afghanistan and the German development projects there made sense and were at least partially successful. That will be the task of a commission of inquiry of the Bundestag, which will get support from scientists.