The Afghan Vacuum: what future for the EU?

External Relations

Estimated reading time: ~  3 minutes


After only seven months in the White House, the Democratic President Joe Biden revealed his real vision: “America First”. The presidential speech held on August 31 emerged like a disruptive move. It is a break with the electoral speeches and slogan that now restitutes the US to their traditional “isolationism” in foreign policy.

President Biden never mentioned in his speech the European Union or the countries who joined NATO and their engagement in Afghanistan. President Biden only referred to the US national interest, rejecting every mention to nation building principles – a clear inconsistency with every document redacted by the Atlantic Alliance.

Afghanistan is not anymore in the radar of the US strategy: America’s interest is now focused on the East and especially China (and Russia too, being this country a crucial ally of Beijing).

President Biden’ gaze is already pointing the mid-term elections in 2022: he knows that he risk being trapped between the willing to start a “culture war” and the need to maintain the political supremacy.

President Biden has carried out what Obama first and Trump second had already started. The problem is that President Biden talked to the Americans, not to world, while his words still exert a huge impact on the future of the EU and its political integration.

After the US withdrawal, the EU faces something new and worrying. The European Union lacks a common army (and a common foreign policy) – a fundamental tool to carry out policies with other means, as Carl von Clausewitz put it down.

EU member States are already engaged in military missions around the globe (for example in the Sahel region, where jihadi forces threat the security and peace of the region) and others will be authorized in the near future.
Furthermore the arrival of the Taliban in Kabul and the departure of the US from the region will have a disruptive effect on the security in the Middle East (the US flight would encourage aggressive actions against Israel) and the effect on migration flows will be rapidly felt.

Europe will have to develop security plans in the Middle East (where the battle for energetic resources rages), to broker a new alliance with Turkey (that now becomes a much more relevant element in the European strategic scenario), to study and develop a political tool for common defense in the Mediterranean region, to redefine the mission and budget of NATO, and to renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal in a brand-new post-Afghanistan political framework.

In addition, the swift withdrawal of US military and diplomatic personnel and the flaking of the already teetering Afghan government caused sensitive US government data being left behind in the country that is now falling under the Taliban control.

Even though the majority of classified information was taken away from Afghanistan or destroyed, a huge quantity of sensitive material will probably remain in the country. This might be the case, for example, when such information had been shared with the Afghan public authorities, NGOs and several other partners actively operating on the field.

As the Taliban swept through Afghanistan the news quickly circulated that they might have also collected some US military biometric devices used to collect data (iris scans, fingerprints, and facial images) like the HIIDE machines.

One of the risks of relinquishing some outwardly innocuous data is the “mosaic effect”: harmless data that if combined together can reveal information that can truly harm US security. The new Taliban government, when formally established, could take advantage of these data selling them to US adversaries, such as Russia and China, that will be ready to pay. This move will apparently pave the way to stronger relations between Afghanistan and its international sponsors, thus gaining leverage to negotiate and obtain the formal recognition of the Afghan Islamic Republic.

One of these systems, the Afghan Personnel and Pay System (APPS) – a US funded database – has been used by both the Afghan Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Defense and it goes into great levels of detail about the security personnel and their broader networks.
The dataset includes general personal information (name and place of birth, for example), as well as an ID number that links each registered identity to a biometric profile at the disposal of the Afghan Ministry of Interior.

Anyway, such a dataset also provides details about the individuals’ military specialty and career path, as well as sensitive relational data such as the names of their father, uncles, and other relatives – dramatically putting people at risk.


Written by: Giovanni Asmundo

Submitted on: September 6, 2021

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