NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said the military alliance will not leave Afghanistan until security conditions allow, as rising violence threatens to derail ongoing intra-Afghan peace talks in Qatar.
“We went into Afghanistan together, we will adjust together, and when the time is right, when the conditions are met, we will leave together in a coordinated and orderly way. This is a commitment by all allies and I'm absolutely certain that all allies will live up to this commitment,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels on October 21, ahead of a two-day NATO foreign ministers' meeting.
NATO has led international security efforts in Afghanistan since 2003, two years after a U.S.-led coalition ousted the Taliban from power, and currently has around 12,000 troops in the country to train and assist the national security forces.
Some 8,000 U.S. soldiers were involved in NATO’s Resolute Support mission in August, and NATO allies and their partners rely on U.S. air power, transport, and logistics to operate.
U.S. commanders say the plan is to reduce the American troop presence to 4.500 by November, according to the Associated Press.
On October 7, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted that he wants all U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan by December 25, but his national-security adviser, Robert O'Brien, last week said the number of U.S. troops would shrink to 2,500 early next year.
Meanwhile, Taliban militants have stepped up attacks throughout Afghanistan even as the group is holding peace talks with government negotiators in the Qatari capital, Doha.
The talks “offer the best chance for peace in a generation,” Stoltenberg said, adding: “They must preserve the gains made at such high price over the last two decades, including for women and girls.”
NATO’s secretary-general urged the Taliban to “live up to their commitments, significantly reduce the levels of violence, and pave the way for a cease-fire.”
“They must break all ties with Al-Qaeda and other international terrorist groups. And they must negotiate in good faith,” he added.
Earlier this week, U.S. envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad warned that “distressingly high” levels of violence threaten to derail the peace process.
The intra-Afghan talks follow a deal signed by the United States and the Taliban in Doha in February.
Under the deal, foreign forces will leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to negotiate a permanent cease-fire and a power-sharing formula with the Afghan government.