Brussels (Brussels Morning) NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg stated that the alliance will not pull out from Afghanistan until security conditions allow, dispelling fears of a looming deadline for US withdrawal set by former President Donald Trump, AFP reported on Thursday.
Trump set a timetable for withdrawal of all US troops by 1 May 2021, but the deadline is currently under review by President Joe Biden, with calls mounting within the alliance for Washington to delay final exit or allow the presence of a smaller US force.
Even though the majority of NATO ground troops currently in Afghanistan are from other alliance members, they rely on US logistics, intelligence and other combat-support operations. Without that support, the alliance mission’s operational viability would likely be seriously hampered.
Anticipating US withdrawal, violent clashes in Afghanistan are again on the rise, as the Taliban, the Islamic State group, warlords and criminal gangs have been feeling more free to step up their violent campaign.
Even though Trump’s peace deal with the Taliban set the date for the US exit from the country, Stoltenberg made clear on Wednesday that the NATO presence in Afghanistan is “condition based”, and that it will require the Taliban to meet their commitments.
“The main issue is that the Taliban has to reduce violence, Taliban has to negotiate in good faith and Taliban has to stop supporting international terrorist groups like Al Qaeda,” Stoltenberg said. “We will only leave when the time is right and the focus now is how we can support the peace talks,” he added.
NATO’s Afghan campaign is the alliance’s longest, costliest and most ambitious operation ever. The alliance took command of international security operations in the country in 2003, two years after a US-led coalition toppled the Taliban for its role in protecting the late Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.