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NATO Allies Discuss Afghan Mission's Future After Proposed U.S. Withdrawal

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks before the start of the North Atlantic Council of Defence Ministers, at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on February 14.

NATO defense ministers are meeting in Brussels to discuss the alliance's military operations in Afghanistan amid indications the United States could withdraw at least some of its troops from the conflict-ridden country.

"Our mission in Afghanistan remains a top priority," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said at the start of the session on February 14, the second and final day of the gathering at NATO headquarters.

The ministers are discussing how best to use NATO's presence in Afghanistan through its Resolute Support mission to support talks with the Taliban aimed at ending the 17-year conflict.

Washington is engaged in efforts to negotiate a peace deal between the Taliban and the Afghan government, with a view to scaling back the U.S. military presence.

U.S. officials have said President Donald Trump wants to withdraw about half of the 14,000 U.S. troops now in Afghanistan.

The U.S. special peace envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, briefed NATO ambassadors before the Brussels meeting about developments that occurred during several rounds of direct talks he has had in recent months with representatives of the Taliban's political office in Qatar.

"We strongly support the efforts to reach a political, peaceful settlement," Stoltenberg said on February 13.

The NATO chief also said "no decision has been taken about any withdrawal," adding that NATO allies would decide the future of the mission "together, based on conditions determined with the Afghans."

The ministers on February 14 were also expected to discuss NATO's missions and operations in Kosovo and Iraq.

On Kosovo, Stoltenberg has said the ministers will "review the level of our support for the Kosovo Security Force after the change of its mandate."

Kosovar lawmakers in December voted to convert the 2,500-member Kosovo Security Force into a national army with some 5,000 personnel and more substantial weaponry.

But that move is opposed by Kosovo's ethnic Serbian minority, by Serbia's government in Belgrade, and by Russia.

With reporting by AP and dpa

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