The almost twenty-year presence of the Italian military contingent in Afghanistan ends. Defense Minister Lorenzo Guerini arrived in Herat today for the final salute to the military and the ceremony of the lowering of the flag at the base of Camp Arena, which will be handed over to local forces. The repatriation operations of men (there were 800 at the beginning of the year) and vehicles, started in May, will be completed shortly, in line with the acceleration of the United States, which intends to leave the country by mid-July, symbolic of 9/11 as announced by President Joe Biden.
The end of over 20 years of Italian mission in Afghanistan
What the men of the Italian Army, the Navy, the Air Force and the Carabinieri who intervened in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attack, leave behind is a changed country, with new institutions. Their return does not, however, mean the end of Italy’s support for the Afghan people. The country that voted for the first time in a democratic way with the ISAF (the international intervention force called “International Security Assistance Force”) will be guaranteed support even when the military base returns to the Afghans.
“We do not want Afghanistan to go back to being a safe place for terrorists – said the Minister of Defense during the ceremony – we want to continue to strengthen this country by also giving continuity to the training of the Afghan security forces so as not to disperse the results. obtained in these 20 years “. “Let us not abandon the Afghan civilian personnel who collaborated with our contingent in Herat and their families: 270 have already been identified and another 400 are being investigated. They will be transferred to Italy starting from mid-June”, continued Guerini. speaking of the fate of Afghan collaborators who risk retaliation by the Taliban once the NATO contingent leaves Afghanistan. “Today there are 53 tears that will never be forgotten by the whole of Italy”: this is the moving memory of General Enzo Vecciarelli, Chief of Defense Staff, of the soldiers who died in the Afghan operational theater.
The “disgrace” of the Arab Emirates to Italy
However, a diplomatic incident marked the day. What happened? An Air Force Boeing 767 bound for Herat was blocked in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, where it was forced to land due to the UAE’s refusal to grant permission to fly over the country. On board the plane there were about forty journalists headed to Afghanistan to follow the ceremony of the lowering of the flag of the Italian contingent in Afghanistan. For this reason, the ceremony could only be held in a small format and with great delay.
From the Ministry of Defense they let it be known that “all the authorizations of the countries of the overflight route had been previously requested and accepted” and therefore the Arab Emirates refused the passage at the last minute. The Boeing was therefore forced to land in Saudi Arabia for refueling, where it stopped about three hours before leaving for Herat, bypassing the Emirates from the south and taking another four hours of flight, also avoiding the military bases of Arabia. Saudi. On the instruction of Minister Luigi Di Maio, the Secretary General of the Foreign Ministry, Ambassador Ettore Sequi, today summoned the United Arab Emirates Ambassador Omar Al Shamsi to the Farnesina. The secretary general expressed to the ambassador “the surprise and strong disappointment at an unexpected gesture that is hard to understand”.
On the sidelines of the flag drop ceremony in Herat, Defense Minister Guerini explained: “The issue did not depend on us, some diplomatic initiatives were taken, the Emirati ambassador to the Foreign Ministry was summoned to ask explanations and to express all the disappointment and amazement at having denied the overflight with respect to decisions that had already been communicated, assumed and guaranteed “.