Calls are growing within the European Union for the creation of a rapid reaction military force to respond to crises around the world in the wake of the chaotic scenes at Kabul airport after the Taliban seized power more than two weeks ago.
EU defense ministers gathered on September 2 for a meeting in Slovenia to discuss the fallout of the withdrawal of Western troops from Afghanistan and were set to revisit a proposal to set up a 5,000-strong rapidly deployable force.
The United States and its allies were able to evacuate more than 123,000 foreigners and Afghans out of Kabul between August 14, the day before the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan, and August 31, when the U.S. ended its presence in the war-torn country after two decades.
Still, tens of thousands of Afghans who had helped Western nations oust the militants during a 20-year war and others at risk remained behind, and the EU was left on the sidelines during the U.S.-led airlift operation.
“It’s time to build a stronger #EUdefence. Later will be late. This is the message I brought to the informal meeting of #Defence Ministers,” General Claudio Graziano, chairman of the EU military committee, composed of the member states’ chiefs of defense.
"The situation in Afghanistan, the Middle East, and the Sahel show that now is the time to act, starting with the creation of a European rapid reaction force, able to show the will of the Union to act as a global strategic partner," Graziano told reporters ahead of the ministers’ meeting.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in Slovenia that a rapid reaction force must be part of the EU's attempts to develop its common defence.
"Sometimes there are events that catalyze history, that create a breakthrough, and I think that Afghanistan is one of these cases," he said.
German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said the lesson from Afghanistan was "that we get more autonomous as Europeans and can act more independently."
But she insisted "it is very important that we don't act as an alternative to NATO and the Americans."
The EU's efforts to create a rapid reaction force have been paralyzed for more than a decade, and there are major doubts that there would be the political will to engage such a force.
In 2007, the bloc set up a system of EU battalion-sized groups of 1,500 troops that has never used due to disagreements.