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European Leaders Have Tense Reactions To U.S.-Afghanistan Conflict


While European leaders were careful not to directly criticize the Biden administration, many are angry over how the U.S. is departing Afghanistan, a country in which they had a common mission for 20 years. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports from Paris.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Just after the bombing in Kabul, French President Emmanuel Macron promised France would continue to try to evacuate the hundreds more who were waiting outside the airport hoping to get to France.



BEARDSLEY: "But I cannot guarantee we will be successful," he said, "because we do not control the security situation." France wrapped up operations Friday night. Germany and the Netherlands pulled out Thursday night.

LEMA SALAH: It's the Taliban's deadline. Biden is agreeing to it, and then the entire international community is following.

BEARDSLEY: Lema Salah is a researcher at the Netherlands Defence Academy. She came to the Netherlands from Afghanistan at the age of 3. She says there wasn't enough time to evacuate some of her relatives, and tens of thousands of other endangered Afghans will be left behind. Salah says the episode has tarnished America's reputation.

SALAH: This entire chaos at the airport for two weeks now, how can it not change the perspective we have on the U.S.? They're neglecting their responsibilities.

BEARDSLEY: Sudha David-Wilp at the U.S. German Marshall Fund in Berlin says Europeans had been hoping for more from the Biden administration.

SUDHA DAVID-WILP: After four years of cringing and ducking during the Trump years, there's certainly shock about the messy withdrawal in Afghanistan. And of course, there's also of bitterness about not being consulted because Biden certainly put a lot of weight into how important America's alliance system is.

BEARDSLEY: Europeans went into Afghanistan alongside the U.S. after 9/11 under NATO's Clause 5 - an attack on one is an attack on all. European armies largely pulled out in 2014 during the Obama administration's first drawdown of American troops. Romain Malejacq is an Afghanistan specialist and professor of conflict studies at Radboud University in the Netherlands. He says Biden could have wrapped up the mission differently after Trump hastily negotiated with the Taliban, bypassing the Afghan government.

ROMAIN MALEJACQ: Biden hasn't had the courage of changing course in Afghanistan. People feel that the U.S. just does whatever it wants. Everyone is talking about it, and everyone is seeing that we - these scenes from the Kabul airports. And this will stay.

BEARDSLEY: Simon Haselock is a former member of Britain's Royal Marines. He now works in conflict resolution in the world's hotspots, including Afghanistan.

SIMON HASELOCK: There is huge surprise in Europe, but in Britain specifically, given that Britain was the senior partner. Britain's been abandoned in the same way as the other European countries. And we backed America in its war in Afghanistan because of 9/11. We backed it right up until the last minute. Then American arbitrators decided to pull it.

BEARDSLEY: Haselock says many feel the so-called special relationship between the U.S. and Britain is just a chimera. Speaking in the British parliament, Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat, who served in Afghanistan, said recent days had ripped open old wounds.


TOM TUGENDHAT: Like many veterans, this last week has been one that has seen me struggle through anger and grief and rage, the feeling abandonment of not just a country but the sacrifice that my friends made.

BEARDSLEY: Tugendhat said what's happening is a harsh lesson for European NATO partners. We need to make sure we are not dependent on any single ally, he says, and never again on the decision of a single leader. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. [Clarification:Lema Salah, who is introduced as a researcher at the Netherlands Defence Academy, is also a Ph.D. researcher at Radboud University’s Centre for International Conflict.]


Corrected: August 30, 2021 at 12:00 AM EDT
Lema Salah, who is introduced as a researcher at the Netherlands Defence Academy, is also a Ph.D. researcher at Radboud University's Centre for International Conflict.
Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.