NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said development and security go hand in hand in Afghanistan.
RFE/RL: As the Brussels conference on Afghanistan focuses on peace, reconciliation, and prosperity for Afghanistan, the Taliban have escalated their attacks, especially in Kunduz Province. Can they win militarily?
Jens Stoltenberg: What you have seen again and again is that the Afghan security forces are able and capable to repel the attacks of the Taliban. I think that is a very strong sign of a very important achievement of the NATO presence in Afghanistan, and that is that we have been able to end our combat operations in Afghanistan. We handed over the full responsibility for security in Afghanistan to the Afghan forces themselves in 2015, and of course there are challenges, there are attacks, and we still see violence, but we also see that the Afghan Army is able to retake the ground and to answer in a very decisive way to the attacks of the Taliban.
RFE/RL: From NATO's perspective, is military force alone enough to defeat the Taliban, or does winning also mean creating an economically healthy country that can offer people good reasons not to join the militants?
Stoltenberg: There is a very close link between security and development, and the link goes both ways, meaning there can be no economic development without security, but at the same time development is important for lasting security. So development and security are mutually reinforcing, and that is the reason this Brussels meeting is so important. The support of the international community to promote development in Afghanistan is important in itself, but at the same time NATO's presence helps provide security, which is a precondition for economic development.
RFE/RL: You are well aware of the peace agreement signed recently between Kabul and Hzbi Islami led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. What is your reaction?
Stoltenberg: That is something we welcome. We support the efforts to try to find a political, negotiated solution, and in the long run there has to be a political, negotiated solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. But I think it is important to understand that there is no contradiction between a strong Afghan Army, security forces, and the effort to try to find a negotiated, peaceful settlement. Actually, the opposite. If the Taliban and different violent groups believe they can win on the battlefield, then they don't really engage in a real effort to find a political solution. So a strong army [and] strong NATO support to the Afghan Army and security forces is creating the platform, the basis for a negotiated political solution.
RFE/RL Could you please tell us about the future role of NATO in supporting and mentoring the Afghan security forces that it helped create in 2001?
Stoltenberg: NATO decided at our summit in Warsaw in July that we will continue our military presence in Afghanistan with approximately 13,000 troops. They will not conduct combat operations, but they will train, assist, and advise the Afghans because we strongly believe that in the long run it is a more viable option that the Afghan themselves defend their own country instead of NATO troops fighting the war for the Afghans. Second, we decided also at our summit in July to continue to fund the Afghan security force to 2020, and thirdly, we also decided to step up and enhance the political partnership between Afghanistan and NATO.
RFE/RL: What's NATO’s future role in promoting regional stability and cooperation in Central Asia and South Asia?
Stoltenberg: We will continue to support the efforts to try to find a peaceful solution for reconciliation. We are not directly part of the talks, but of course we support the Afghan government. We provide strong practical and political support to the Afghan government, and also in our engagement with different countries in the region we underline and we support all efforts to try to find a peaceful solution, which has to be based on regional understanding and a regional context.
RFE/RL: What is your message to ordinary Afghans?
Stoltenberg: NATO will continue to support you. NATO has been in Afghanistan for almost 15 years, but NATO will continue to provide political support, practical support. We will train and assist the Afghan forces, and we will continue to fund the Afghan Army and security forces.