STUTTGART, Germany — NATO foreign ministers convened Friday afternoon via teleconference to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, which Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said remains “very difficult and unpredictable.”
He called the Taliban takeover “a tragedy first and foremost for the people of Afghanistan.” The ministers collectively agreed that the evacuation of NATO members and allied nationals and Afghans that assisted in the military mission was the alliance’s foremost priority.
Over the past week, NATO allies have deployed military transport aircraft to Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, as well as to locations outside of Afghanistan, to help build the air bridge to carry the evacuees out of the country. Among others, those allies include the United States, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Poland, and the United Kingdom.
While the evacuations started slowly – in part due to a temporary halt in operations at the Kabul airport last Monday – transport aircraft have since been flying to and from Kabul this past week.
In fact, the challenge now is not equipment-related, Stoltenberg pointed out.
“The limiting factor is not the lack of planes,” he told reporters in a virtual press conference after the ministerial meeting. “The limiting factor now is actually the ability to get people into the airport, processed, and on the planes.”
The meeting on Friday was timely for members to come up with solutions, Stoltenberg said. “We had 30 allies sitting around the table, focusing on perhaps the most difficult and urgent task now. And that is to enable ... and make it possible for more people, especially Afghans, to get to the airport and into the airport.”
To that end, Germany’s armed forces on Friday sent two Airbus H145M helicopters to Kabul to help pick up evacuees from the city and take them to the airport, the Ministry of Defense in Berlin announced on Twitter.
Meanwhile, images and videos have emerged of Taliban fighters posing with abandoned military equipment in Afghanistan, such as U.S.-made Black Hawk helicopters and A-29 attack planes. Stoltenberg told reporters that he did not know the exact extent of NATO assets now under control by the Taliban, but said that “different NATO allies have done whatever they can for several months … to get their soldiers out, but also take back as much equipment as possible.”
Each ally is responsible for its own equipment, he noted. “Some has been taken back, and some has been destroyed. And some is, of course, still in Afghanistan,” he said.
Vivienne Machi is a reporter based in Stuttgart, Germany, contributing to Defense News' European coverage. She previously reported for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defence Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2020.