Final visit to Camp Nidaros

Published under: Solberg's Government

Publisher Ministry of Defence

“What’s happening now is a milestone for our military involvement in Afghanistan. We no longer have operational forces in northern Afghanistan, and we’re transferring Camp Nidaros to German forces in May,” says Minister of Defence Ine Eriksen Søreide. She is the last Norwegian defence minister who will ever visit Camp Nidaros in Mazar-e Sharif. Norwegian special forces will continue to train and mentor the Afghan special police in Kabul.

“What’s happening now is a milestone for our military involvement in Afghanistan. We no longer have operational forces in northern Afghanistan, and we’re transferring Camp Nidaros to German forces in May,” says Minister of Defence Ine Eriksen Søreide. She is the last Norwegian defence minister who will ever visit Camp Nidaros in Mazar-e Sharif. Norwegian special forces will continue to train and mentor the Afghan special police in Kabul.

“I made up my mind early to celebrate the 17th of May here in Afghanistan ­– with you,” Minister of Defence Ine Eriksen Søreide told Norwegian soldiers at Camp Nidaros, referring to Norway’s Constitution Day holiday. “For the Government and for me it was important to do this, especially the year we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Constitution.”

Norway’s military engagement in Afghanistan is changing and winding down. On 10 May, the Police Advisory Team (PAT) completed its operational activity in Mazar-e Sharif, and with that, Norway longer has operational forces in northern Afghanistan. Norway will now transfer camp Camp Nidaros to the Germans. These are important milestones in the transition to a new phase of international involvement in Afghanistan.

Last visit to Camp Nidaros

The defence minister’s visit on 17 May began at the Norwegian embassy in Kabul. There the minister met Norwegians serving in both civilian and military capacities.

“Many people view the developments in Afghanistan as exclusively negative,” says Eriksen Søreide, “but there are bright spots. In April this year the Afghan people defied threats of violence to cast their votes. Some 7 million eligible voters, or nearly 65 per cent of the electorate, voted in the presidential and provincial elections. That’s nearly double the number that participated in the election four years ago. I believe that the Afghan people are on the right track, although major challenges remain.”

After a hectic morning in Kabul she travelled to Mazar-e-Sharif and the Norwegian forces serving there.

“You’re the last Norwegian soldiers to serve here at Camp Nidaros,” the defence minister said. “You and the soldiers who preceded you have done ​​a big, important job, and you performed the mission in a very good way. And we pay homage to those who gave their lives to carry out the mission on Norway’s behalf. Norway and the Government are proud of the soldiers and their efforts.”

The minister added: “It was important for me to visit Camp Nidaros and the soldiers here one last time before we withdraw from the camp, and the 17th of May was a brilliant opportunity. It’s been many years since I walked in a 17th of May parade and it was great fun.”

The holiday was celebrated at Camp Nidaros much as it is in Norway, with a parade, ice cream, soft drinks and sausages as well as other activities.

 “This day is a welcome break from the important job these soldiers are now doing,” says Eriksen Søreide. “A lot of practical work remains before Norway can leave Camp Nidaros.”

Moving to Kabul

The plan is to transfer Camp Nidaros by the end of May. In June the remaining Norwegian soldiers will move to Kabul International Airport. Some Norwegian officers will remain at Mazar-e-Sharif on the staff of RC-North, at the headquarters of the Afghan National Army’s 209th Corps, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and the ANA’s engineer school. These officers will travel home no later than October 2014.

“It is important to emphasise that we’re not leaving Afghanistan, even though we’re reducing the number of Norwegian soldiers. Our focus now is our work in Kabul. A small staff and support unit is placed there to support the soldiers who are left. Our special forces are among those who will continue their mission as planned for the rest of 2014,” says the defence minister.

What will happen after 2014 has not been settled. Several types of assistance are under study, but everything depends on the signing of relevant agreements between the state of Afghanistan and international actors.

“Close ties have been created here in the north as a result of our recent history,” says Eriksen Søreide. “Several thousand women and men have served here, and we have lost 10 of our own soldiers during this mission. It’s good news that the Afghans are now taking full responsibility in northern Afghanistan.”

(See higher-resolution pictures from the visit at flickr.)