Which EU country now out of the EU carried the military burden in Afghanistan? No prizes for guessing.

Graham Charles Lear
5 min readAug 25, 2021


How the UK took 50% of the brunt of fighting in Afghanistan, among all EU countries

Whilst the EU is making its public announcements about Afghanistan on a daily basis and is arguing internally about which of its countries should take thousands of Afghan support staff I look at which EU countries carried the military burden in Afghanistan over the last 20 years.

On Saturday (21 Aug 2021) EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, EU Council President Charles Michel, and other assorted EU dignitaries flew to Madrid for a photo opportunity. They were there to celebrate the arrival of 150 Afghan support staff from the EU’s embassy operation in Kabul.

Meanwhile, I was engaged in a task that was rather grimmer

Since October 2001, the UK’s military forces have been engaged in operations in Afghanistan. Given that during all of this time the United Kingdom was a member of the European Union, I felt it appropriate to look at the commitment of the EU28 countries to coalition forces from the early days, through the first NATO mission, to the UN-promoted peace-keeping mission from 2015.

NATO itself presents troop numbers from each country. This, however, does not represent a true picture of the fighting forces deployed. Sadly as there are no figures readily available from NATO for actual combat troops from each country (as opposed to liaison officers, admin staff, and other personnel), I decided that a chart showing fatalities would be more representative of the commitment from each EU country.

Military fatalities in Afghanistan by EU country — 2001–2021

UK 50%

France 10%

Germany 6.3%

Italy 5.6%

Denmark 5%

Poland 4.7%

Spain 4%

Netherlands 2.9%

Romania 2.9%

Czech 1.6%

Estonia 1%

Hungary 0.8%

Sweden 0.6%

Latvia 0.3%

Slovakia 0.3%

Finland 0.3%

Portugal 0.2%

Belgium 0.1%

Croatia 0.1%

Lithuania 0.1%

[Source: casualties, used by the BBC and other major news organisations, cross-checked with MoD and other data]

According to the Ministry of Defence, almost 90% of fatalities were the direct result of hostile action. The vast majority of these took place in the Taliban stronghold of Helmand province.

There is also the tragic number of British service personnel who have been wounded in Afghanistan, some of these horrifically. I have no data for the numbers of wounded from other EU countries but I would estimate that it will follow similar proportions to the UK data

456 British fatalities

5,255 UK military and civilian injured personnel were admitted to UK field hospitals

2,188 of these were categorised as Wounded in Action

[Source: Ministry of Defence official data]

What about actual troop numbers from EU countries?

When I provide important information such as that above, those who are still pro-EU have a tendency to accuse me of presenting only partial information. They will no doubt argue that total numbers of service personnel matter just as much as the number of combat troops. Therefore, I give a snapshot below from 10 years ago (August 2011) of the overall service personnel in Afghanistan from the top four other contributing countries in the EU. These include admin staff, chefs, logistics personnel, etc.

The UK had 9,500 service personnel in Afghanistan in August 2011. This represented:-

90% more than Germany

139% more than Italy

141% more than France

268% more than Poland

[Source: NATO deployment figures, August 2011]

The above report was not easy to work on. I even questioned whether I should publish this information in the context of the EU. In the end, I decided it was right to do so. For 20 years British forces have intervened in a country that was a breeding ground for international terrorism which directly affected the British people — and those across the European Union.

For those 20 years, this intervention came at a terrible cost. Commentators can discuss the rights and wrongs but I focus on the facts for British servicemen and women. Hundreds dead, thousands injured. We will remember them all.

I hope MY American readers will forgive me for focusing on the European perspective. The United States of course bore the brunt of the sacrifices made — by a very long way. This report today tries to shed some light on what European countries — including the United Kingdom — contributed. It does so because sadly history tells us that mistakes are often repeated. The more people know the facts, the better informed will be their decisions and perhaps fewer brave men and women will die in future conflicts.

The EU’s ‘Defence Union’

For many years the EU has been advancing its ambitions to become a military power. Its policy of a ‘European Defence Union’ is well-established and is no secret. In countless reports, I have published detailed official information about the EU’s moves towards its own ‘EU Army’.

There is absolutely no question that the EU will ultimately stand-alone from NATO, despite all its protestations that it wishes to work in harmony with the organisation that has provided the defence of Europe for the last 60 years.

At NATO itself, the EU has been fortunate to have a Secretary-General who is fanatically pro-EU. As Prime Minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg continually tried to persuade his people to join the EU but the wise Norwegians rejected his plans more than once.

During his time heading NATO, not only has Mr Stoltenberg continuously cosied up to the EU, but he has also conspicuously failed to get the EU countries anywhere near the prescribed military spending of 2% of GDP — something which the United Kingdom has consistently achieved.

Neither the UK nor the US can rely on the EU

Our report above shows how the idea that the EU can take responsibility for its own defence is still for the birds — and we are not talking about ‘fighting eagles’. There are two national military powers of consequence in Western Europe: the United Kingdom and France. With France preoccupied with a significant part with its former colonies in Africa, it has been left to the United Kingdom to take up the mantle in so many conflicts. However, I will say this about France in Afghanistan. France had two years to run before the date agreed for France to pull out of Afghanistan. They were then attacked. Four French soldiers were killed in northern Afghanistan after a serviceman from the Afghan National Army opened fire, officials say.

Another 16 French soldiers were injured, some seriously, in the incident in Kapisa province. President Nicolas Sarkozy who was President at the time said France was suspending its training programmes in Afghanistan following the attack. France’s early exit was initiated by President Francois Hollande, in 2012 who was strongly criticized by NATO for accelerating the withdrawal two years ahead of the alliance’s timetable.

The simple fact is when you have Allies who do that you can never trust them again.

The rights and wrongs of these conflicts are not at issue here. The question of whether the EU will ever be remotely fit for purpose militarily? This most certainly is.

[ Sources: EU Commission | EU Council | NATO official figures | Ministry of Defence official figures | Icasualties ]



Graham Charles Lear

What is life without a little controversy in it? Quite boring and sterile would be my answer.