Nato, acting Pentagon chief discuss Afghanistan

Updated 17 Nov 2020

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Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addresses a press conference ahead of a Nato defence ministerial meeting at Nato headquarters in Brussels on October 2, 2018. ─ AFP/File
Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg addresses a press conference ahead of a Nato defence ministerial meeting at Nato headquarters in Brussels on October 2, 2018. ─ AFP/File

BRUSSELS: Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has spoken to the new acting US defence secretary about the alliances commitment to stay in Afghanistan as long as necessary, his spokeswoman said on Monday, amid speculation that President Donald Trump might order a rapid withdrawal of US troops in the country.

Nato spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said Stoltenberg held talks with Christopher Miller on Friday about the 30-nation US-led military alliances agenda, including the situation in Afghanistan, and that Nato’s position hasn’t changed on its security role in the conflict-ravaged country.

No Nato ally wants to stay any longer than necessary. At the same time, we want to preserve the gains made with such sacrifice, and to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists that can attack the United States or any other Nato ally, Lungescu said.

Nato took charge of the international security effort in Afghanistan in 2003, two years after a US-led coalition ousted the Taliban for harbouring former Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. In 2014, it began to train and advise Afghan security forces, but has gradually pulled troops out in line with a US-brokered peace deal.

We support the Afghanistan peace process, and as part of it, we continue to adjust our presence, Lungescu said. She noted that Nato has reduced its presence to under 12,000 troops, and more than half of these are non-US forces.

Miller stirred additional speculation about a possible Trump administration move to fully withdraw from Afghanistan in coming weeks when he wrote in a letter to all US Defence Department employees last Friday, All wars must end. Without specifically citing Afghanistan, he appeared to indicate that a full withdrawal might be in the offing.

Ending wars requires compromise and partnership, he wrote. We met the challenge; we gave it our all. Now, its time to come home.

On the other hand, he also wrote that it was too early to abandon the war that Al Qaeda brought to our shores in 2001, adding: This war isn’t over. We are on the verge of defeating Al Qaeda and its associates, but we must avoid our past strategic error of failing to see the fight through to the finish.

Americans often make up at least half of the troops participating in the Resolute Support mission. Around 8,000 US troops were involved in August. Nato allies and their partners rely on US air power, transport, logistics and medical assistance to operate. Its unlikely that the mission could function or even leave without significant US help.

Lungescu said that Nato allies will continue to consult on the future of our mission in Afghanistan, and we stand ready to further adjust our mission, in a coordinated manner and based on conditions on the ground.

Violence and chaos have increased in Afghanistan in recent months even as government negotiators and the Taliban are meeting in Qatar to find an end to decades of relentless war in Afghanistan. The two sides have made little progress.

At least two government security troops were killed and four others wounded on Friday in a suicide car bomb attack in Kabul. No one immediately claimed responsibility, though suspicion immediately fell on the Taliban.

Published in Dawn, November 17th, 2020