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NATO Hasn't Reached Decision on Whether to Leave Afghanistan as Deadline Looms

U.S. Army photo
  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has not yet decided if the 10,000 troops it has in Afghanistan will leave the country by May.
  • Last February, the United States brokered a deal with the Taliban that would usher in a permanent cease-fire and see the departure of all foreign forces by May 2021.
  • There are about 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

WASHINGTON – NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday that the alliance has not yet decided if the 10,000 troops it has in Afghanistan will leave the country by May, in accordance with a peace deal brokered between the U.S. and the Taliban.

"Violence has to be reduced and the Taliban has to stop cooperating with international terrorist groups that are planning terrorist attacks in our countries," Stoltenberg told reporters at the conclusion of a two-day virtual NATO defense ministers meeting.

Last February the United States brokered a deal with the Taliban that would usher in a permanent cease-fire and reduced further the U.S. military's footprint from approximately 13,000 troops to 8,600 by mid-July last year.

By May 2021, all foreign forces would leave the war-weary country, according to the deal.

"Our aim is to make sure that we have a lasting political agreement that can make it possible for us to leave in a way that doesn't undermine our main goal and that is to prevent Afghanistan from becoming once again a safe haven [for terrorists]," Stoltenberg said, adding "That's also the reason why we will continue to assess the situation before we make any final decision on our future."

Jens Stoltenberg, 13th Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is talks to the media at the NATO headquarter on February 11, 2020 in Brussels, Belgium.
Thierry Monasse/ Getty Images
Jens Stoltenberg, 13th Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is talks to the media at the NATO headquarter on February 11, 2020 in Brussels, Belgium.

"The majority of the troops are from European allies and partner countries. We will do what is necessary to make sure that our troops are secure," Stoltenberg said when asked if the alliance was prepared for violence if the agreement with the Taliban is broken.

There are about 2,500 U.S. troops in the country. Currently, the U.S. is slated to withdraw American service members from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin told NATO members that the Biden administration was "conducting a thorough review of the conditions of the U.S.-Taliban agreement to determine whether all parties have adhered to those conditions," according to a Pentagon readout of the meeting.

"He reassured allies that the U.S. would not undertake a hasty or disorderly withdrawal from Afghanistan," the statement added.

The Pentagon has previously said that the U.S. troop drawdown in Afghanistan would be contingent on the Taliban's commitments to uphold the peace deal brokered last year.

The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have cost U.S. taxpayers more than $1.57 trillion since Sept. 11, 2001, according to a Defense Department report. The war in Afghanistan, which is now America's longest conflict, began 19 years ago and has cost U.S. taxpayers $193 billion, according to the Pentagon.

Stoltenberg also said Thursday that the NATO alliance decided to expand its security training mission in Iraq. The military alliance agreed to increase its footprint from 500 personnel to around 4,000.

"Our presence is conditions-based and increases in troop numbers will be incremental," he said, adding that the request for an expanded mission was made by the Iraqi government.

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