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NATO Makes ‘No Final Decision’ On Military Withdrawal From Afghanistan

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg attends a news conference following the alliance's defence ministers meeting in video format, at the headquarters in Brussels on February 18.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance did not make a final decision on whether or when to withdraw troops out of Afghanistan during a virtual meeting on February 18.

The meeting came as the Biden administration is reviewing a U.S.-Taliban deal to determine if the militant group is meeting its commitments, including reaching a cease-fire and engaging in meaningful negotiations with the Afghan government.

Under the deal, all foreign forces are to leave Afghanistan by May in exchange for security guarantees from the militant group such as severing ties with Al-Qaeda.

Despite the launch of peace talks between Afghan and Taliban negotiators in Qatar in September, violence in Afghanistan has soared, raising concerns about NATO troops withdrawing too early and potentially allowing the insurgents to claim victory.

"At this stage, we have made no final decision on the future of our presence," Stoltenberg said after a video meeting with NATO defense ministers. "As the May 1 deadline is approaching, NATO allies will continue to closely consult and coordinate in the coming weeks.”

Ahead of the virtual meeting, German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said peace talks had not made sufficient progress to allow a full withdrawal.

"This means we will have to prepare for a changing security situation and a rising threat to both international troops and our own soldiers," Kramp-Karrenbauer said in a statement on February 17.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on February 18 discussed with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani the ongoing review of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, the State Department said.

Blinken told Ghani that the United States is committed to a peace deal that includes "a just and durable political settlement and permanent and comprehensive cease-fire," according to the statement from State Department spokesman Ned Price.

Soaring Taliban attacks in Afghanistan have prompted members of the U.S. Congress and international rights groups to call for a postponement to the withdrawal agreed under former President Donald Trump.

On February 18, two professors at Kabul University were killed when a bomb attached to their vehicle went off in the capital.

"We are faced with many dilemmas, and there are no easy options," Stoltenberg said. "If we stay beyond the first of May, we risk more violence, more attacks against our own troops ... But if we leave, then we will also risk that the gains that we have made are lost."

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin promised to consult with allies and partners on the way forward, Stoltenberg added.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP
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