The Germans’ Dramatic Escape from Afghanistan in 2021

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The clock is ticking mercilessly in Kabul. Thousands of Afghans are still waiting to be rescued, but the people trying to help them are running out of time. The Americans intend to leave the airport on August 31 at the latest. All other allies have been called on to end their missions at least 48 hours before that.

Van Thiel and Arlt continuously warn their supervisors in Germany of the approaching deadline, but, as both will later say, they feel as though they aren’t being taken seriously. In Berlin, some are still hoping that the Americans might push back their withdrawal by a couple of weeks.

On August 22, a classified protocol of a crisis group meeting records the German Defense Ministry’s position as follows: “Continuation of flight operations beyond August 31 extremely desirable.” Miguel Berger, the state secretary in the Foreign Ministry, is also optimistic. “It is unlikely that the U.S. would only extend evacuation operations for itself and not for its partner countries.”

One day later, the designated German ambassador in Kabul, Markus Potzel, tells the crisis group that there are “joint approaches” with the U.S. and Turkey to “extend flight operations beyond August 31.” On August 25, Potzel reports that the Taliban is interested in continuing operations at the airport.

In Kabul, they can merely shake their heads in disbelief. U.S. General Chris Donahue confers from the airport with the U.S. president, after which he informs his German counterpart Arlt that August 31 is the final day of operations and no extension is under consideration. Why doesn’t Berlin seem to understand?

Carefully, the Foreign Ministry approaches van Thiel to see if he and his team can imagine staying in Kabul even after the withdrawal of the Bundeswehr. The envoy speaks to each one of his diplomats and federal police officers individually to get their reactions. One after the other, they all respond with the same answer. “No.”

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