NATO faces ‘difficult decision’ with Afghanistan: Stoltenberg

KABUL (Tolo News): NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at a joint press conference with the Prime Minister of Belgium, Alexander De Croo on Thursday said “we have seen attacks … against individuals, journalists, and others, and of course the high level of violence is something which is of great concern.” 

“So, we will make the assessment together, we will make the decision together, and this will be one of the most important topics that will be discussed when we have a NATO Defense Ministerial meeting later this month and decisions will be made,” Jens Stoltenberg said.

He also said that NATO and its allies were faced with “a difficult decision” on Afghanistan and that “we have to make that together. Because my message is that there will be costs and challenges, whatever we decide.”

“If we decide to leave, we risk jeopardizing the peace process, we risk losing the gains we have made in the fight against international terrorism over the last years, and we risk that Afghanistan once again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists,” he said.

“On the other hand, if we decide to stay, of course we will continue to be in a difficult military operation in Afghanistan, and we risk increased violence also against NATO troops,” he mentioned. He also said that his message to the Taliban is that “they have to live up to their commitments, especially when it comes to breaking old ties with international terrorists including Al Qaeda. And we need to see reduced violence.”

The Prime Minister of Belgium said: “To really align with what the secretary general said, on the Belgium side we are committed to this NATO mission, and the word ‘together’–you mentioned it multiple times– I think that’s the key. We made the decision together to intervene.”

“If we adjust, well, we should decide together to adjust, at some point we will leave Afghanistan,” he said.

US troops withdrawal    

A study group appointed by US Congress has called on the Biden administration to slow the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, and to remove the May 1 exit deadline and instead reduce the number of troops only as security conditions improve in the country.

The report finds that removing international forces by the May 1 deadline set in the US-Taliban peace agreement could lead to a civil war in Afghanistan.

The Afghanistan Study Group began its congressionally-mandated work in April 2020, just weeks after the US and the Taliban signed an agreement on February 2020 on the conditions for a US troop withdrawal that would end the US’s long military engagement in Afghanistan.

“We have an interest in an Afghanistan that respects basic human rights. We do not, however, believe that securing these interests requires a permanent US military presence in Afghanistan,” the group said in the report.

The report said that: “An immediate diplomatic effort to extend the current May 2021 withdrawal date in order to give the peace process sufficient time to produce an acceptable result.”

The Afghanistan Study Group makes the following recommendations for the Afghan peace process: clarify the end state, reinforce the conditionality of a final US troop withdrawal, clarify the US commitment to the current Afghan state, work diplomatically to promote the success of the negotiation process and design an overarching regional diplomatic strategy.

The report stated that in addition to conducting counterterrorism operations and supporting the Afghan forces, “a key objective of the ongoing US military presence is to help create conditions for an acceptable peace agreement.”

The February 2020 Doha agreement and the subsequent troop reductions clearly demonstrated that the US is prepared to withdraw from Afghanistan.

 “It should not, however, simply hand a victory to the Taliban,” it said.

“Key consideration of the Study Group was that while we support the values of the Afghan government and recognize that its collapse could create significant problems for the region and beyond, US decisions about America’s presence in Afghanistan cannot be held hostage to the divisions, ineffectiveness, corruption, and shortsightedness that the Afghan government has too often displayed,” the report says.

The report suggested a re-emphasis on diplomacy and negotiation, including a regional diplomatic strategy implemented over the longer term.

“There is broad regional support for a US withdrawal that is responsible rather than precipitate and chaotic. Many countries in the region, especially Pakistan, have influence over the Taliban and other participants in the peace process. They should actively use this influence to make the peace process successful because they will ultimately benefit from its success,” the report said.