Hasty Afghan pullout will have high price, warns Nato chief

Published November 18, 2020
In this file photo, Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a ceremony marking the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in Brussels. — AP
In this file photo, Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a ceremony marking the 19th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in Brussels. — AP

BRUSSELS: Nato could pay a heavy price for leaving Afghanistan too early, its chief warned on Tuesday after a US official said President Donald Trump is expected to withdraw a significant number of American troops from the conflict-ravaged country in the coming weeks.

Nato has fewer than 12,000 troops from dozens of nations in Afghanistan helping to train and advise the country’s national security forces. More than half are not US troops, but the 30-nation alliance relies heavily on the United States for transport, air support, logistics and other assistance. It’s unlikely that Nato could even wind down its operation without US help.

"We now face a difficult decision. We have been in Afghanistan for almost 20 years, and no Nato ally wants to stay any longer than necessary. But at the same time, the price for leaving too soon or in an uncoordinated way could be very high," Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement on Tuesday.

He said Afghanistan still risks becoming once again a platform for international terrorists to plan and organise attacks on our homelands. And ISIS (the militant Islamic State group) could rebuild in Afghanistan the terror caliphate it lost in Syria and Iraq.

The US decision comes just days after Trump installed a new slate of loyalists in top Pentagon positions who share his frustration with the continued troop presence in war zones. The expected plans would cut US troop numbers almost in half by Jan. 15, leaving 2,500 troops in Afghanistan.

US officials said military leaders were told over the weekend about the planned withdrawal and that an executive order is in the works but has not yet been delivered to commanders.

Nato took charge of the international security effort in Afghanistan in 2003, two years after a US-led coalition ousted the Taliban for harboring 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.

Stoltenberg said that even with further US reductions, Nato will continue its mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces. We are also committed to funding them through 2024.

Nato’s security operation in Afghanistan is its biggest and most ambitious undertaking ever. It was launched after the military alliance activated its mutual defense clause known as Article 5 for the first time, mobilising all the allies in support of the United States in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Published in Dawn, November 18th, 2020

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