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Afghanistan crisis sparks debate over EU's military capabilities

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By Euronews & AP
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US troops provide assistance during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul
US troops provide assistance during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul   -   Copyright  Credit: AP
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Europe was unprepared and uncoordinated during the recent crisis in Afghanistan and had to rely on the US to help airlift citizens out of the country as the Taliban seized Kabul, a senior EU official said on Wednesday.

European Council President Charles Michel said that the bloc needed to "strive for greater decision-making autonomy and greater capacity for action in the world".

Speaking at the Bled Strategic Forum in Slovenia, Michel said: “As a global economic and democratic power, can Europe be content with a situation where we are unable to ensure, unassisted, the evacuation of our citizens and those under threat because they have helped us?"

Amid calls for “European strategic autonomy” from a non-member like the United States, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said Wednesday in an opinion piece for The New York Times that the withdrawal of Western troops and airlift from Afghanistan should serve as a “wake-up call” and urged the bloc to invest more in its security capabilities.

European Parliament President David Sassoli, meanwhile, said that he was disappointed that EU nations did not open their doors to refugees fleeing the Taliban.

'Cultural identity of Europe'

"We didn't see so many (...) European countries step up and open their doors to Afghan asylum seekers," he said.

Sassoli argued that individual EU member states were only concerned with those Afghans who worked with their governments.

His comments were criticised by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who warned against making the same "mistake" that was made in 2015 when a large number of migrants arrived in Europe.

He said the EU had to "support the refugees closer to the source of the problem."

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban insisted that his country was against welcoming newcomers, saying it would "change the cultural identity of Europe".

"We don't accept migration as a solution to the demographic politics or demographic challenges," he added. "We only believe that family policy, the traditional Christian family policy, can help us out."

Radical change

Chief Strategy Officer at Rasmussen Global, Fabrice Pothier, told Euronews that what Borrell says may be true, but it is more likely that EU member states will take stock of where they are, rather than propose any radical change.

"I think this is more a window of reality, one that will show that Europe does not yet have neither the political will nor the real capabilities...to do the kind of job that the United States forces were doing in Afghanistan," Pothier said.

"Whether this is really going to be a game-changer and whether we are going to see, especially the Germans, who remain the swing state in Europe in defence, being much more willing to put first money and second evolving the strategic culture, being willing to take risks, being willing to put German forces in harm's way, this is going to be a real question," he added.

Pothier also said that the discussion of strategic independence has and always will be there after failures in the Balkans during the 90s and more recently, Libya. But the Sahel region - where European troops are stations - is where the real test lies.

"You can have all the headlines and all the announcements you like, but the real acid test is the Sahel," he said. "The moment France withdraws from the Sahel we will have a series of countries, which for sure will collapse and be taken over by criminal, terrorist groups, and then you will really have a problem very close to Europe."