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Under No Illusion: Norway, Denmark See Brutal Afghan Truth

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Fifteen years ago, Scandinavian NATO member states happily joined the US-led mission in Afghanistan in hope of promoting democracy and welfare in the war-torn nation. However, the international mission in Afghanistan only resulted in a sizable monetary loss and needless civilian deaths, as well as the Taliban's territorial and military gains.

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One of the main objectives of the Norwegian effort in Afghanistan was to help build a stable and democratic Afghan state. "This goal was never reached," former Foreign and Defense Minister Bjørn Tore Godal stated, according to Norwegian national broadcaster NRK. According to Godal, the Norwegian effort was primarily focused on posing as a good ally to the US and NATO in the fight against international terrorism.

The Godal Committee evaluated the Norwegian effort in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014 and summed its findings in a 231-page-long report titled "The Good Ally: Norway in Afghanistan From 2001 to 2014." The report was handed over to Foreign Minister Børge Brende and Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide.

Godal called the situation in Afghanistan "depressing," as militant Islamist groups still have a foothold in the country and the Taliban have become stronger than ever.

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According to Godal, the strongest impression was when he came to Kabul, supposedly the safest city in the whole of Afghanistan and discovered that he had to drive around in armored vehicles with safety vests and helmets. In contrast, international representatives could walk freely around Kabul as far back as 2003, recollected Godal.

"Military operations undermined the foundations for economic and social development, endangered the results achieved and weakened opportunities for building a stable, functioning state on democratic basis," Godal said as quoted by the newspaper Dagbladet.

Defense Expert Helge Lurås agreed that Norway's primary motivation was to nurture relations with the US and NATO, as Afghanistan is, strictly speaking, an American, but not a Scandinavian problem. Lurås stressed that today's Afghanistan is "completely dependent" on foreign aid, as a large part of the state budget is paid for by the West. Without the Western support, Afghanistan would crumble, he pointed out.

"The biggest mistake made in Afghanistan was to wage war and build peace at the same time," Afghanistan Committee Secretary General Life Kjølseth said as quoted by NRK, citing a gap between Norway's expectations and Afghanistan's harsh reality.

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Between 2001 and 2014, approximately 9,000 Norwegian soldiers served in Afghanistan. The costly military operation lightened Norway's state coffers by 20 billion kroner (some 2.5 billion dollars) and resulted in the death of ten Norwegian servicemen, while at the same time leaving many seriously injured.

"This was is a lot of money, but still no more than 0.26 percent of the total cost of the international military effort," said Godal, concluding that the contribution did not affect the country's development.

Remarkably, the Norwegian evaluation is shared by their Danish colleagues.

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Denmark's longstanding effort in Afghanistan was, like for Norway, far from successful, associate professor at the Royal Danish Defense College Peter Viggo Jakobsen told Danish Radio.

"Denmark went to war with exactly the same objectives, and I would say that one can give the same [poor] grade to Denmark, he said.

Denmark has had troops in Afghanistan since 2002, contributing to the international effort up to 750 soldiers. Denmark's economic assistance for Afghanistan during the period 2002-2012 totaled in almost 4 billion kroner (600 million dollars). Additionally, an annual amount of 530 million kroner (roughly 80 million dollars) was allocated to the development effort in Afghanistan between 2013 and 2017.

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