NATO troops to stay in Afghanistan

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday that their troops would not leave Afghanistan before “the time is right”, adding the troops’ presence in the country is “condition-based”

Feb 16, 2021
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NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday that their troops would not leave Afghanistan before “the time is right”, adding the troops’ presence in the country is “condition-based”.

His statement came in a pre-ministerial press conference on Monday. NATO is scheduled to hold its defense ministers meeting from Wednesday. “Our common goal is clear,” he said, “Afghanistan should never again serve as a haven for terrorists to attack our homelands.”

Last week, the Taliban issued a statement, requesting NATO to follow on the US-Taliban deal. The Taliban assured NATO and the US that the group remained committed to the agreement and still believed to end the conflict through dialogue and negotiations. The insurgent group, at the same time, gave a veiled warning, hinting they would resume attacking foreign troops should they extend their stay beyond May 2021.

Under the US-Taliban agreement signed on 29 February 2020 in Doha, Qatar, all foreign forces were expected to withdraw from Afghanistan by May 2021. However, the withdrawal, NATO officials claimed, was condition-based on the Taliban’s commitment to fulfilling their obligations under the same agreement.

Since the start of the intra-Afghan negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government last year, the Afghan insurgent group has not reduced violence, as was obligated to the group under the Doha agreement. Furthermore, target killings, and assassinations of civil society members, politicians, and journalists, have increased multifold, instilling a sense of fear among the common people. 

“Peace talks remain fragile and the level of violence remains unacceptably high, including the Taliban attacks on civilians,” said Stoltenberg, adding “The Taliban must reduce violence, negotiate in good faith and live up to their commitment to stop cooperating with international terrorist groups.”

He also said the alliance “strongly supports” the Afghan Peace Process. “This is the best chance for a lasting political solution,” he added. NATO has also adjusted their troop presence as part of the Afghan Peace Process. 

Stoltenberg said they would take more measures to “ensure the safety” of their troops. We will consider the next steps in a deliberate and coordinated way, he added.

Significantly, the Biden administration in the US is also currently reviewing the 2020 Doha deal. If it decides to leave, NATO would find it difficult to operate without the US assistance due to logistical problems. However, that possibility seems very unlikely now.

Experts also warn the extension of foreign troops’ presence beyond the May deadline might result in the Taliban abandoning the peace talks. Moreover, the group has historically seen the US and its promises with great suspicion. The Taliban’s military commanders, confident of their battlefield advantage, may push the group to undertake major offensive operations in cities and some of the provincial centers.

A recent report by The New York Times also suggested that the Taliban has been closing in on some major cities and provincial capitals in Afghanistan. A survey by an Afghan media group, too, has suggested the insurgent group has control over around 52 percent, including some section of important highways and link roads, of Afghanistan.

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