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Belgium announces troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021

Defence Minister Ludivine Dedonder made the announcement on Saturday. Credit: Belga

Belgium’s contingent in Afghanistan will return home next year, Defence Minister Ludivine Dedonder said on Saturday.

“We are preparing our withdrawal,” which “will occur during the year 2021,” Ms. Dedonder said in an interview published in Het Belang van Limburg newspaper.

“We cannot simply leave; agreements have to be made with our allies. The evacuation of equipment alone will take three months,” added the minister, who is scheduled to present the military operations plan for 2021 to the cabinet, and then to parliament, next week.

About 70 Belgian military personnel are deployed in Afghanistan on a mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan armed forces.

In general policy note discussed for four weeks in the Chamber’s Defence Commission, the Minister had already announced that her ministry anticipated a gradual and conditional withdrawal of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission (RSM) from Afghanistan, in keeping with the decisions expected to be taken by the North Atlantic Council.

“The practical withdrawal of the Belgian units will be done in close coordination with our German partner,” she added.

According to the latest figures from Defence Chief of Staff, just over 70 Belgian military personnel are deployed in Afghanistan, mainly in the northern town of Mazar-i-Sharif, under German command.

The RSM force is made up of 11,000 troops, but the United States decided to reduce its contingent from 5,000 to 2,500 by 15 January – five days before President-elect Joe Biden takes office – under an agreement concluded in February 2000 with the Taliban insurgents.

Under the timetable set in that agreement, the troops are to be pulled out completely by mid-2021 but this is based on conditions which, according to many observers, have not been fulfilled so far.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday called on the Taliban to implement a complete cease-fire and announced that the allied Defence ministers would have tough decisions to make at their next meeting, scheduled for February 2021.

The Brussels Times