The deployment of the armed forces in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years will likely end before 9/11. The last Austrian soldier should return to Austria by July at the latest. This “inner target” was revealed by Lieutenant Colonel Michael Gravel in a telephone conversation with APS from Kabul. Fourteen members of the armed forces are currently stationed in the country in the Hindu Kush. Reactions from NATO and Afghanistan to Austria’s commitment are very positive.
More recently, the Austrians have been involved in training Afghan security forces. The tasks were advisory and supportive, and the soldiers did not actively participate in combat operations. There have been no Austrian casualties in the past twenty years. The soldiers are all well trained and all have international experience, says Gravel, who himself was in Kosovo. Most of the Austrians come from Jagdkommando.
It was the intention of the Austrian mission to help stabilize the situation. Grafl “always gets very positive reviews that this is done in an exemplary way.” The support of the Afghan security forces was also accepted with “great gratitude”. “A relationship of trust has developed.” Gravel says the efforts of the Afghan security forces, who are at risk of being targeted by attack every day, are “very much appreciated.”
Gravel himself has been stationed in Kabul since February 17th. Other Austrians are currently active in Mazar-i-Sharif in northern Afghanistan, at the German armed forces camp. You are already preparing to leave. Gravel hopes to return to his wife and two children, who live in Burgenland, by July at the latest. Due to the Covid pandemic, leave to visit home was not possible.
The 10,000 NATO soldiers from the Resolute Support Mission are said to have left Afghanistan on September 11th. It remains difficult to predict how the security situation will evolve after this. Gravel predicts, “It will not be easier for the Afghan security forces with a complete withdrawal.” Nevertheless, NATO, and the United States of America above all, intend to “continue providing support, whatever the form of this support.” But the Austrians are definitely moving away.
The security situation has not improved since the withdrawal began on May 1. There are constant threats from the Taliban against international forces. Gravel says the threats “have increased in the past few days and weeks.” In addition, attacks are launched on security forces and civilians every day. “You can see that it has increased around May 1st.” Fortunately, there have been no direct attacks against NATO yet.
The military coalition has also taken “all precautions to protect the international forces in the best possible way.” Buildings are strengthened and secured with sandbags and concrete blocks, and troop movements are mainly carried out in the air. It has also put the coronavirus “under control very well” – with strict rules such as the constant wearing of mouth and nose protection and keeping distances. The U.S. Armed Forces offered to vaccinate other nations. Austrians were also able to benefit from Johnson & Johnson vaccines.