NATO’s Afghanistan withdrawal depends on violence levels, Stoltenberg says


Taliban militants in Afghanistan must do more to meet the terms of a 2020 peace agreement with the United States to allow for any possible foreign troop withdrawal by a May deadline, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday.

Allied defence ministers will discuss later this week whether the Taliban is making good on the peace deal, which called for militants to curb attacks and foreign troops to withdraw by 1 May.

“We see that there is still a need for the Taliban to do more when it comes to delivering on their commitments … to make sure that they break all ties with international terrorists,” Stoltenberg said.

Attacks in Afghanistan, including a bomb that killed the deputy governor of the capital Kabul in December, have prompted members of the US Congress and international rights groups to call for a delay to the pullout agreed under former President Donald Trump.

NATO has 9 600 troops in Afghanistan, including 2 500 Americans, training and assisting Afghan forces.

Many fear that progress during two decades of foreign intervention in Afghanistan would quickly unravel, threatening gains in areas from women’s rights to democracy. US lawmakers have warned that withdrawing all troops could lead to civil war.

This week’s defence ministers’ meeting, which will take place by video conference on Wednesday and Thursday, was initially set decide on whether to go ahead with a troop pullout. The administration of new US President Joe Biden faces calls to seek a six-month delay.

Four senior NATO officials told Reuters on 31 January international troops would stay beyond the May deadline, despite Taliban calls for a full withdrawal.

“Our common goal is clear: Afghanistan should never again serve as a haven for terrorists to attack our homelands,” Stoltenberg said. “While no ally wants to stay in Afghanistan longer than necessary. We will not leave before the time is right.”