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West underestimated Taliban, Angela Merkel tells German lawmakers

Published August 26,2021

German Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed lawmakers on Wednesday to give her response to the chaotic events that have taken place in Afghanistan in the past 10 days, amid calls for a parliamentary enquiry.

Addressing the issue of why the events came as such a surprise to the international community, Merkel said that the Western powers had underestimated how "breathtakingly quickly the Afghan security forces would give up their resistance to the Taliban after the troop withdrawal."

In retrospect, she said, it was easy to say what should have been done, but decisions had to be made as events unfolded.

"Our goal must be to preserve ... the changes we have made in Afghanistan over the past 20 years," she said.

She added that she was in favour of negotiations with the militant Taliban, as they were "now a reality in Afghanistan."

Merkel paid tribute to those who had died or suffered injuries while on active service in Afghanistan during the past two decades, revealing that one of her former bodyguards had been among the 59 German soldiers killed in the conflict.

"The developments of the last few days are terrible, they are bitter," Merkel said.

Social Democrat parliamentary party leader Rolf Muetzenich called for the establishment of a Bundestag enquiry to investigate the deployment of the Bundeswehr in Afghanistan, in the debate following Merkel's statement.

Merkel said that, at present, the German government was concentrating "with all its might" on the evacuation operations from Kabul airport, which need to be completed by Tuesday, the deadline for US troops to leave the country.

More than a week after the German Bundeswehr began its operation to evacuate its nationals from Afghanistan, the German parliament overwhelmingly approved the deployment of up to 600 soldiers.

The Bundestag approved the mandate, which is valid until September 30, by 538-9, with 89 abstentions. The tally had initially been given at 539-9 with 90 abstentions, but was updated after a print-out of the votes was made available.

Under Germany's post-war constitution, the Bundestag must approve every armed deployment of the Bundeswehr. In exceptional cases, this is also possible retroactively, normally when imminent danger is involved.

This was the case, according to the German government, when it came to the urgent need to evacuate German citizens and Afghan aid workers trapped in Afghanistan when it fell to Taliban forces 10 days ago.

The Bundeswehr flew out a further 538 people from Kabul in three flights on Wednesday, the German military announced on Twitter, bringing the number of people German forces have evacuated to 5,193, including more than 3,600 Afghans.

Additionally, German forces reported cooperated with US troops to send helicopters throughout Kabul to pick up 21 German citizens from pre-arranged extraction points, Eberhard Zorn, Germany's chief of defence, or highest-ranking soldier, said in Berlin.

The night-time operation reportedly used specialized aircraft and was working in the constant danger of attacks.

Despite the impressive numbers, some 200 German citizens are still believed to be in Kabul, according to the German Foreign Office. The number has even been rising "because people continue to report to us," a Foreign Office spokesperson said in Berlin on Wednesday.

So far, more than 8,500 refugees from Afghanistan have been evacuated to the US Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where they are being accommodated in hangars and tents.

Once Ramstein's capacity for 10,000 people is exhausted, another 4,000 refugees can be accommodated in other US military bases in Germany.

Some 2,000 people fleeing Afghanistan arrived at the US military facility in the German city of Kaiserslautern on Wednesday, where they will temporarily be housed, the US Army announced.