KABUL: NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said the military alliance would decide on whether to stay or leave Afghanistan next year while acknowledging that the US is determined to reduce its troop level in the country by early 2021.
Talking to Halifax International Security Forum, Stoltenberg stated NATO would have to make the decision early next year on whether to withdraw from Afghanistan.
He said that no NATO ally was interested to stay longer than needed, but a hasty withdrawal would risk the gains made during the nearly past two decades.
“So what is clear now is that the US is going to reduce, but they are not going to leave. The US will continue to provide support to the other NATO Allies.”
“We have to remember that more than half of the troops in Afghanistan now are non-US – they are European Allies and also partner nations. We are in Afghanistan to make sure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists…” Stoltenberg added.
He said that NATO strongly supported the ongoing peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban that began after an agreement between the Taliban and US in February – based on which all foreign troops may leave Afghanistan on May 1.
“So early next year, we need to make a very hard decision. That’s: whether we leave and risk to lose the gains we have made, but then at least we can be out of Afghanistan; or whether we stay and then continue to be involved in the very challenging and demanding military operation in Afghanistan,” he said.
Stoltenberg assured, however, that the decision on leaving Afghanistan would be made together with other allies of NATO and only if required conditions were in place.
Based on the US-Taliban agreement, the Taliban insurgent group is supposed to cut ties with all terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda and the US should be assured that Afghanistan would never be used against it or any of its allies in the future.