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EU calls on American friends to help secure the airport to complete evacuations

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Today (24 August), the G7 joined by the Secretaries General of the United Nations (UN) and NATO met virtually to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. In a joint statement they described their commitment to the people of Afghanistan as ”steadfast”. 

Following the meeting, European Council and Commission Presidents Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen spoke to journalists. 

Michel said that the first priority of the EU was the safe evacuation of the coalition's citizens, Afghan staff, and their families, however he raised concern about their ability to safely reach Kabul airport: “We call on the new Afghan authorities to allow free passage to all foreign, and Afghan citizens, who wish to get to the airport.

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“We have also raised this issue with our American friends and partners on two particular aspects: first, the need to secure the airport, as long as necessary, to complete the operations; and second, a fair and equitable access to the airport, for all nationals entitled to evacuation.”

Von der Leyen emphasized the need to help women and girls; she said that the Commission will propose to quadruple the humanitarian aid coming from the EU budget raising it from €50 to €200 million for 2021, this will help meet urgent needs in Afghanistan, but also in neighbouring host countries.

On the geopolitical implications of recent events, Michel felt the need to say that the end of the military operation in Afghanistan is not the end of the EU’s commitment to promoting rule of law, democracy, and human rights in the world. Rather, he said that it should make us more determined than ever: “This must be clear to actors who are trying to take advantage of the current situation. The EU will continue to firmly protect and promote its interests and values.”

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Michel also said that there will be more lessons to draw from what happened in Afghanistan: “These events show that developing our strategic autonomy, while keeping our alliances as strong as ever, is of the utmost importance, for the future of Europe. In due time, I will propose a discussion on this question to my fellow leaders of the European Council.”

Afghanistan

Afghanistan: Considering socio-economic interests in all segments of society is essential for sustainable peace

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The First Deputy Director of the Institute for Strategic and Interregional Studies under the President of the Republic of Uzbekistan Akramjon Nematov commented on the initiatives of Uzbekistan in the Afghan direction put forward at the meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) held on September 16-17.

Nowadays, one of the key issues on the international agenda is the situation in Afghanistan after the Taliban came to power. And it is quite natural that it became the central topic of the SCO heads of state summit held on September 17, 2021 in Dushanbe. Most of SCO states share a common border with Afghanistan and directly feel the negative consequences of the unfolding crisis. Achieving peace and stability in Afghanistan is one of the main security goals in the SCO region, writes Akramjon Nematov, First Deputy Director of the ISRS.

The seriousness of this issue and the high degree of responsibility with which states treat its solution is evidenced by the discussion of Afghan issue in the SCO-CSTO format. At the same time, the main goal of the multilateral negotiations was to find agreed approaches to the situation in Afghanistan.

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President of Uzbekistan Sh. Mirziyoyev presented his vision of the ongoing processes in Afghanistan, outlined the challenges and threats associated with them, and also proposed a number of basic approaches to building cooperation in the Afghan direction.

In particular, Sh. Mirziyoyev stated that today a completely new reality has developed in Afghanistan. New forces as the Taliban movement have come to power. At the same time, he emphasized that the new authorities still have to go through a difficult way from consolidating society to forming a capable government. Today, there are still risks of Afghanistan returning to the situation of the 90s, when the country was engulfed in a civil war and a humanitarian crisis, and its territory turned into a hub of international terrorism and drug production.

At the same time, the head of state stressed that Uzbekistan, as the closest neighbor, which directly faced threats and challenges in those years, is clearly aware of all the possible negative consequences of the situation development in Afghanistan under a worst case scenario.

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In this regard, Sh.Mirziyoyev called on the SCO countries to unite their efforts to prevent a protracted crisis in Afghanistan and related challenges and threats to the Organization's countries.

To this end, it was proposed to establish effective cooperation on Afghanistan, as well as to conduct a coordinated dialogue with the new authorities, carried out proportionately in compliance with their obligations.

First, the Uzbek leader stressed the importance of achieving broad political representation of all segments of Afghan society in state administration, as well as ensuring respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms, especially those of women and national minorities.

As the President of Uzbekistan noted, the prospects for stabilizing the situation, restoring the Afghan statehood and, in general, the development of cooperation between the international community and Afghanistan depend on this.

It should be noted that Tashkent has always adhered to a principled position on the need to respect the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the neighboring country. There is no alternative to a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan. It is important to conduct a political dialogue with an inclusive negotiation process that takes into account exclusively the will of all Afghan people and the diversity of Afghan society.

Today, the population of Afghanistan is 38 million people, while more than 50% of it constitute ethnic minorities – Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmens, Hazaras. Shiite Muslims are 10 to 15% of the population and there are also representatives of other faiths. In addition, the role of women in the socio-political processes of Afghanistan has significantly increased in recent years. According to the World Bank, the number of women in the population of Afghanistan is 48% or about 18 million. Until recently, they occupied high government posts, served as ministers, worked in education and healthcare, actively participated in the socio-political life of the country as parliamentarians, human rights defenders, and journalists.

In this regard, only the formation of a representative government, the balance of the interests of ethno political groups, and the comprehensive consideration of socio-economic interests of all segments of society in public administration are the most important conditions for sustainable and lasting peace in Afghanistan. Moreover, the effective use of the potential of all social, political, ethnic and religious groups can make a significant contribution to the restoration of the Afghan statehood and economy, the return of the country to the path of peace and prosperity.

Second, the authorities should prevent the use of the country's territory for subversive actions against neighboring states, exclude patronage of international terrorist organizations. It was emphasized that countering the possible growth of extremism and the export of radical ideology, stopping the penetration of militants across borders and their transfer from hot spots should become one of the key tasks of the SCO.

Over the past 40 years, the war and instability in Afghanistan have turned this country into a haven for various terrorist groups. According to the UN Security Council, 22 out of 28 international terrorist groups, including IS and Al-Qaeda, are currently operating in the country. Their ranks also include immigrants from Central Asia, China and the CIS countries. Until now, joint efforts have been able to effectively stop terrorist and extremist threats emanating from the territory of Afghanistan, and prevent them from spilling over into the space of the Central Asian countries.

At the same time, a protracted power and political crisis caused by the complex process of forming a legitimate and capable government may cause a security vacuum in Afghanistan. It can lead to the activation of terrorist and extremist groups, increase the risks of transferring their actions to neighboring countries.

Moreover, the humanitarian crisis that Afghanistan is facing today is delaying the prospects for stabilizing the situation in the country. On September 13, 2021, the UN Secretary-General A. Guterres warned that in the near future Afghanistan may face a catastrophe, since almost half of the Afghan population or 18 million people live in a state of food crisis and emergency. According to the UN, more than half of Afghan children under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition, and a third of citizens from lack of nutrition.

In addition, Afghanistan is facing another severe drought – the second in four years, which continues to have a serious negative impact on agriculture and food production. This industry provides 23% of the country's GDP and 43% of the Afghan population with jobs and livelihoods. Currently, 22 out of 34 Afghan provinces have been seriously affected by the drought, 40% of all crops were lost this year.

Moreover, the situation is aggravated by the growing poverty of the population of Afghanistan. According to the UN Development Program, by now the share of poverty among the population is 72% (27.3 million people out of 38 million), by the middle of 2022 it may reach 97%.

It is obvious that Afghanistan itself will not be able to cope with such complex problems. Furthermore, 75% of the state budget ($11 billion) and 43% of the economy have so far been covered by international donations.

Already today, high dependence on imports (imports – $ 5.8 billion, exports – $ 777 million), as well as freezing and restricting access to gold and foreign exchange reserves, have significantly spurred inflation and price growth.

Experts predict that the difficult socio-economic situation, coupled with the deterioration of the military-political situation, may lead to flows of refugees from Afghanistan. According to UN estimates, by the end of 2021, their number may reach 515,000. At the same time, the main recipients of Afghan refugees will be neighboring SCO member countries.

In the light of this, the President of Uzbekistan highlighted the importance of preventing the isolation of Afghanistan and its transformation into the "rogue state". In this regard, it was proposed to unfreeze the assets of Afghanistan in foreign banks in order to prevent a large-scale humanitarian crisis and influx of refugees, as well as to continue to assist Kabul in economic recovery and solving social problems. Otherwise, the country will not be able to get out of the clutches of the illegal economy. It will face the expansion of drug trafficking, weapons and other forms of transnational organized crime. It is obvious that all the negative consequences of this will be first felt by neighboring countries.

In this regard, the President of Uzbekistan called for the consolidation of the efforts of the international community to resolve the situation in Afghanistan as soon as possible and proposed to hold a high-level meeting in the SCO-Afghanistan format in Tashkent with the involvement of observer states and dialogue partners.

Undoubtedly, the SCO can make an important contribution to stabilizing the situation and ensuring sustainable economic growth in Afghanistan. Today, all of Afghanistan's neighbors are either members or observers of the SCO and they are interested in ensuring that the country does not become a source of threats to regional security again. The SCO member states are among the main trading partners of Afghanistan. The volume of trade with them is almost 80% of the trade turnover of Afghanistan ($11 billion). Moreover, the SCO member states cover more than 80% of Afghanistan’s electricity needs and more than 20% of wheat and flour needs.

The involvement of dialogue partners in the process of resolving the situation in Afghanistan, including Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey, Cambodia, Nepal, and now also Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, will allow us to develop common approaches and establish closer coordination of efforts in ensuring security, economic recovery and solving the most significant socio-economic problems of Afghanistan.

In general, the SCO states can play a key role in the post-conflict reconstruction of Afghanistan, promote its transformation into a responsible subject of international relations. In order to do this, the SCO countries need to coordinate efforts to establish long-term peace and integrate Afghanistan into regional and global economic ties. Ultimately, this will lead to the establishment of Afghanistan as a peaceful, stable and prosperous country, free from terrorism, war and drugs, and to ensuring security and economic well-being throughout the SCO space.

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Afghanistan insurgency: Cost of the war on terror

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President Joe Biden’s decision to terminate the military intervention in Afghanistan has widely been criticised by commentators and politicians on both sides of the aisle. Both right- and left-wing commentators have excoriated his decision for different reasons. writes Vidya S Sharma Ph.D.

In my article entitled, Afghanistan pull out: Biden made the right call, I showed how their criticism does not stand scrutiny.

In this article, I wish to examine the cost of this 20-years long war in Afghanistan to the US at three levels: (a) in monetary terms; (b) socially at home; (c) in strategic terms. By strategic terms, I mean to what extent America’s involvement in Afghanistan (and Iraq) has diminished its position as a global superpower. And more importantly, what are the chances of the US reclaiming its previous status as the sole superpower?

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Though I would generally confine myself to the cost of the insurgency in Afghanistan, I would also discuss briefly the costs of the second war in Iraq waged by President George W Bush under the pretext of finding the (hidden) weapons of mass destruction or WMDs that the UN team of 700 inspectors under the leadership of Hans Blix could not find. The Iraq war, soon after the US army had occupied Iraq, also suffered from ‘mission creep’ and transmuted into the war against insurgents in Iraq.

Cost of 20-years of counterinsurgency

Though very real, in some ways more tragic, yet I would not deal with the cost of war in terms of the number of civilians killed, injured and maimed, their properties destroyed, internally displaced persons and refugees, psychological trauma (some times lifelong) suffered by children and adults, disruption to children’s education, etc..

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Let me begin with the cost of war in terms of dead and injured soldiers. In the war and ensuing counterinsurgency in Afghanistan (first officially called, Operation Enduring Freedom and then to indicate the global nature of the war on terrorism it was re-christened as ‘Operation Freedom's Sentinel’), the US lost 2445 military service members including 13 U.S. troops who were killed by ISIS-K in the Kabul airport attack on Aug. 26, 2021. This figure of 2445 also includes 130 or so US military personnel killed in other insurgency locations).

In addition, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) lost 18 of its operatives in Afghanistan. Further, there were 1,822 civilian contractor fatalities. These were mainly ex-servicemen who were now working privately.

Furthermore, by the end of August 2021, 20,722 members of the US defence forces has been wounded. This figure includes 18 wounded when ISIS (K) attacked near on 26 August.

Neta C Crawford, professor of Political Science at Boston University and a Co-Director of the “Costs of War Project” at Brown University, this month published a paper where she calculates that wars conducted in reaction to the 9/11 attacks by the US over the last 20 years have cost it $5.8 trillion (see Figure 1). Of this about $2.2 trillion is the cost of fighting the war and ensuing insurgency in Afghanistan. The rest is overwhelmingly the cost of fighting in the Iraq war launched by neo-cons on the pretext of finding the missing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq.

Crawford writes: “This includes the estimated direct and indirect costs of spending in the United States post-9/11 war zones, homeland security efforts for counterterrorism, and interest payments on war borrowing.”

This figure of $5.8 trillion does not include the costs for medical care and disability payments for veterans. These were calculated by Harvard University’s Linda Bilmes. She found that medical care and disability payments for veterans, over the next 30 years, are likely cost the US Treasury more than $2.2 trillion.

Figure 1: Cumulative cost of war-related to September 11 attacks

Source: Neta C. Crawford, Boston University and Co-Director of the Costs of War Project at Brown University

Thus the total cost of the war on terror comes to the US taxpayers comes to $8 trillion. Lyndon Johnson increased the taxes to fight the Vietnam War. It is also worth remembering that all this war effort has been financed by debt. Both Presidents George W Bush and Donald Trump cut personal and corporate taxes, especially at the top end. Thus added to the budget deficit instead of taking steps to repair the nation’s balance sheet.

As mentioned in my article, Afghanistan pull out: Biden made the right call, Congress nearly unanimously voted to go to war. It gave a blank cheque to President Bush, ie to hunt down terrorists wherever they may be on this planet.

On 20 September 2001, in an address to a joint session of Congress, President Bush said: “Our war on terror begins with al-Qaida, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”

Consequently, Figure 2 below shows the locations where the US has been engaged in fighting insurgencies in various countries since 2001.

Figure 2: Worldwide locations where the US engaged in fighting the war on terror

Source: Watson Institute, Brown University

Cost of the Afghanistan war to the US allies

Figure 3: Cost of Afghanistan War: NATO allies

CountryTroops Contributed*Fatalities**Military Spending ($ Billion)***Foreign Aid***
UK950045528.24.79
Germany49205411.015.88
France4000863.90.53
Italy3770488.90.99
Canada290515812.72.42

Source: Jason Davidson and Cost of War Project, Brown University

* Top European Allies Troop contributors to Afghanistan as of February 2011 (when it peaked)

** Fatalities in Afghanistan, October 2001-September 2017

*** All figures are for years 2001-18

This is not all. The Afghanistan war had cost the US’s NATO allies dearly too. Jason Davidson of the University of Mary Washington published a paper in May 2021. I summarise his findings for the top 5 allies (all NATO members) in a tabular form (see Figure 3 above).

Australia was the biggest non- NATO contributor to the US’s war effort in Afghanistan. It lost 41 military personnel and in financial terms, it cost Australia overall around $10 billion.

The figures shown in Figure 3 do not show the cost to the allies of looking after and settling refugees and migrants and the recurring cost of enhanced domestic security operations.

Cost of war: Lost employment opportunities

As mentioned above, the spending and appropriations relating to the cost of war from FY2001 to FY2019 come to about $5 trillion. In annual terms, it comes to $260 billion. This is on top of the budget for the Pentagon.

Heidi Garrett-Peltier of the University of Massachusetts has done some excellent work determining extra jobs these allocations created in the military-industrial complex and how many extra jobs would have been created if these funds were spent in other areas.

Garrett-Peltier found that “the military creates 6.9 jobs per $1 million, while the clean energy industry and infrastructure each support 9.8 jobs, healthcare supports 14.3, and education supports 15.2.”

In other words, with the same amount of fiscal stimulus, the Federal Government would have created 40% more jobs in renewable energy and infrastructure areas than in the military-industrial complex. And if this money were spent on health care or education, it would have created extra 100% and 120% jobs respectively.

Garrett-Peltier concludes that “the Federal Government has lost the opportunity to create 1.4 million jobs on average”.

Cost of war – Loss of morale, rundown equipment and distorted armed force structure

The US army, the biggest and the most powerful army in the world, along with its NATO allies, fought with uneducated and ill-equipped (running around in their old Toyota utility trucks with Kalashnikov rifles and some basic expertise in planting IEDs or Improvised Explosive Devices) insurgents for 20 years and could not subdue them.

This has taken its toll on the morale of the US defence personnel. Further, it has dented the US’s confidence in itself and its belief in its values and exceptionalism.

Furthermore, both the Iraq War II and the 20 years-long Afghanistan war (both started by neo-cons under George W Bush) has distorted the US force structure.

When discussing deployment, the generals often talk of the rule of three, ie, if 10,000 troops have been deployed in a theatre of war then it means there are 10, 000 servicemen who have recently come back from deployment, and yet another 10,000 are being trained and getting ready to go there.

The successive US Pacific commanders have been demanding more resources and watching the US Navy shrink to levels deemed unacceptable. But their requests for more resources were routinely denied by Pentagon to meet the demands of the generals fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Fighting the 20-years long war has also meant two more things: the US Armed Forces are suffering from war-weariness and were allowed to expand to meet America’s war commitments. This necessary expansion came at the expense of the US Air Force and Navy. It is the latter two that will be required to meet the challenge of China, the defence of Taiwan, Japan and S Korea.

Lastly, the US used its extremely expansive and high-tech equipment, eg, F22s and F35s aeroplanes, to fight insurgency in Afghanistan, ie, to locate and kill Kalashnikov-wielding insurgents roaming around in rundown Toyotas. Consequently, much of the equipment used in Afghanistan is not in good condition and needs serious maintenance and repairs. This repair bill alone will run into billions of dollars.

The cost of war does not end there. In Afghanistan and Iraq alone (ie, not counting fatalities in Yemen, Syria, and other theatres of insurgency), between 2001 to 2019, 344 and journalists were killed. The same figures was humanitarian workers and the contractors employed by the US Government were 487 and 7402 respectively.

U.S. service members who have committed suicide is four times greater than those killed in combat in the post-9/11 wars. Nobody knows how many parents, spouses, children, siblings, and friends are carrying emotional scars because they lost someone in the 9/11 wars or he/she was maimed or committed suicide.

Even 17 years after the Iraq war began, we still do know the true civilian death toll in that country. The same is true for Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and other theatres of insurgency.

Strategic costs to the US

This preoccupation with the war on terror has meant that the US took eyes off the developments taking place elsewhere. This oversight allowed China to emerge as a serious competitor of the US not only economically but also militarily. This is the strategic cost, the US has paid for its 20 years-long obsession with the war on terror.

I discuss the topic of how China has benefitted from the US’s obsession with the war on terror in detail in my forthcoming article, “China was the biggest beneficiary of the “forever” war in Afghanistan”.

Let me very briefly state the enormity of the task ahead of the US.

In 2000, discussing the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) fighting capabilities, the Pentagon wrote that it was focused on fighting land-based warfare. It had large ground, air, and naval forces but they were mostly obsolete. Its conventional missiles were generally of short-range and modest accuracy. The PLA’s emergent cyber capabilities were rudimentary.

Now fast forward to 2020. This is how the Pentagon assessed the PLA’s capabilities:

Beijing will likely seek to develop a military by mid-century that is equal to—or in some cases superior to—the U.S. military. Over the last two decades, China has tenaciously worked to strengthen and modernize the PLA in nearly every respect.

China now has the second-largest research and development budget in the world (behind the US) for science and technology. It is ahead of the US in many areas.

China has used well-honed methods that it mastered to modernise its industrial sector to catch up with the US. It has acquired technology from countries like France, Israel, Russia and Ukraine. It has reverse-engineered the components. But above all, it has relied on industrial espionage. To mention just two instances: its cyber-thieves stole blueprints of F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters and the US navy’s most advanced anti-ship cruise missiles. But it has also carried genuine innovation.

China is now a world leader in laser-based submarine detection, hand-held laser guns, particle teleportation, quantum radar. And, of course, in cyber-theft, as we all know. In other words, in many areas, China now has a technological edge over the West.

Fortunately, there seems to be a realisation among politicians of both the side of the aisle that China will become the dominant power if the US did not put its house in order very soon. The US has a window of 15-20 years to reassert its dominance in both spheres: the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. It relies on its air force and ocean-going navy to exert its influence abroad.

The US needs to take some steps to remedy the situation urgently. Congress must bring some stability to the Pentagon budget.

The Pentagon also needs to do some soul searching. For example, the cost of the development of the F-35 stealth jet was not only well above budget and behind time. It is also maintenance-intensive, unreliable and some of its software still malfunctions. It needs to improve its project management capabilities so that new weapon systems can be delivered on time and within budget.

Biden doctrine and China

Biden and his administration seem to be fully aware of the threat posed by China to the US security interest and dominance in the Western Pacific ocean. Whatever steps Biden has taken in foreign affairs are meant to prepare the US to confront China.

I discuss the Biden doctrine in detail in a separate article. Bur it would suffice here to mention a few steps taken by the Biden Administration to prove my contention.

First of all, it is worth remembering that Biden has not lifted any of the sanctions that the Trump administration imposed on China. He has not made any concessions to China on trade.

Biden reversed Trump’s decision and has agreed to extend the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty). He has done so primarily because he does not want to take on both China and Russia at the same time.

Both right- and left-wing commentators criticised Biden for the way he decided to pull the troops out of Afghanistan. By not continuing this war, the Biden Administration will save nearly $2 trillion. It is more than sufficient to pay for his domestic infrastructure programmes. Those programmes are not only needed to modernise the crumbling US infrastructure assets but will create many jobs in rural and regional towns in the US. Just as his emphasis on renewable energy will do.

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Vidya S. Sharma advises clients on country risks and technology-based joint ventures. He has contributed numerous articles for such prestigious newspapers as: The Canberra Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age (Melbourne), The Australian Financial Review, The Economic Times (India), The Business Standard (India), EU Reporter (Brussels), East Asia Forum (Canberra), The Business Line (Chennai, India), The Hindustan Times (India), The Financial Express (India), The Daily Caller (US. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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EU sets out its position on Afghanistan for UN assembly in New York

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Yesterday (20 September) evening EU ministers dined together ahead of the UN General Assembly which will discuss the situation in Afghanistan, among other issues. Ahead of the meeting, Germany's foreign minister Heiko Maas called for leaders to use the 76th session of the Assembly to coordinate emergency assistance for the Afghan people and to clarify and consolidate the international stance towards "powerholders in Kabul".

In a statement the EU's underlined their commitment to peace and stability in the country and to supporting the Afghan people. The conclusions also set out the EU's line of action for the near future:

The EU recognizes that the situation in Afghanistan is a major challenge for the international community as a whole, and stresses the need for strong coordination in engaging with relevant international partners, notably the UN.

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The EU and its member states' operational engagement will be carefully calibrated to the policy and actions of the Taliban-appointed caretaker cabinet, will not bestow any legitimacy on it, and will be assessed against the five benchmarks agreed on by EU ministers of foreign affairs at their informal meeting in Slovenia on 3 September 2021. In this context, the rights of women and girls are of particular concern.

A minimal EU presence on the ground in Kabul, dependent on the security situation, would facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid and monitoring of the humanitarian situation, and could also coordinate and support the safe, secure and orderly departure of all foreign nationals, and Afghans who wish to leave the country.

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As a matter of high priority, the EU will initiate a regional political platform of cooperation with Afghan direct neighbours to help prevent the negative spill-over effects in the region, and support the economic resilience and regional economic cooperation, as well as humanitarian and protection needs.

The Council will revert to the matter at its next meeting in October.

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