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Anger And Consternation From Europeans Watching Afghanistan Fall To The Taliban

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

There is worry, anger and consternation from Europeans as they watch the rapid fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban. European troops fought alongside the U.S. under NATO but pulled out several years ago. Now their top priority is getting their diplomats out of Afghanistan. As NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports from Paris, there are fears for the future.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking French).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Across the continent, Europeans have been glued to their TV and computer screens, watching the shocking footage of Kabul falling to the Taliban. Britain, Germany and France sent in troops to help evacuate their own diplomats.

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EMMANUEL MACRON: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: French President Emmanuel Macron addressed his nation Monday night from his vacation retreat on the Mediterranean Sea. He said France and the U.S. had fought honorably against terrorism.

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MACRON: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: But Macron said Afghanistan must not be allowed to become a terrorist sanctuary again. He called on Europe, the U.S. and Russia to do all they could to fight this common enemy together. Speaking Monday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson agreed with Macron. While he clearly tried not to lay too much blame on the U.S. for the Afghan government's fall, Johnson still appeared eager to distance Britain from the disastrous events of the last days.

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PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: I think it's fair to say that the U.S. decision to pull out has accelerated things, but we've known for a long time that this was the way things were going.

BEARDSLEY: German officials were much more blunt. Germany deployed around 150,000 soldiers to Afghanistan over the past two decades. In later years, it had the second largest number of troops after the U.S. Armin Laschet is the head of Angela Merkel's conservative party and her possible successor as chancellor.

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ARMIN LASCHET: (Through interpreter) It's the biggest debacle that NATO has suffered since its creation, and this is a change of era that we are confronted with.

BEARDSLEY: Aside from terrorism, another huge concern for Europeans is the possibility of a new wave of migration. Merkel said Monday that the year 2015, when Germany accepted a million Syrian refugees, could not be repeated. That led to a surge in far-right politics in Europe. One of its French leaders, Marine Le Pen, blamed the European Union for the Afghan collapse. There's also been much hand-wringing in Europe over the fate of women and girls. Chekeba Hachemi is a French Afghan and runs a network of girls' schools across Afghanistan. She says two days ago, girls were in classrooms. Now they're hiding and fearing for their lives.

CHEKEBA HACHEMI: (Through interpreter) The U.S. served up this masquerade called peace negotiations, but it was just a strategy to get out without taking its responsibilities. Europe did the same thing in 2014, so it's not only the fault of the Americans.

BEARDSLEY: Romain Malejacq is a French expert on Afghanistan who teaches in the Netherlands. He says it didn't have to be this way. The Biden administration could have renegotiated Trump's agreement with the Taliban, which was supposed to be conditioned on the progress of intra-Afghan dialogue.

ROMAIN MALEJACQ: They could have tried to empower the regime, the government, and really condition the withdrawal on progress in the Taliban government negotiations. And they didn't. They said we're going to be gone by September 11 and then by August 31. And they just rushed towards the exit, and they really abandoned the military and the people of Afghanistan.

BEARDSLEY: Malejacq says the Biden administration will definitely be blamed for the disastrous exit, with the desperate scenes at Kabul's airport seared in Europeans' minds.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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