NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said that the alliance will only withdraw troops from Afghanistan when security situation improves, as May 1 deadline for pull out set in a peace deal with the Taliban nears.
“Our presence in Afghanistan is conditions based, and Taliban has to meet their commitments,” Stoltenberg told reporters after a meeting of NATO defense ministers, including new US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
He said the Taliban has to reduce violence, negotiate in good faith and stop supporting international terrorist groups like Al Qaeda.
The NATO chief announced that “we will only leave when the time is right and the focus now is how we can support the peace talks.”
None of the 30 NATO members has argued that security conditions are right for a withdrawal, and several allies would probably support a longer stay if the US requests it.
As the US is reviewing its deal with the Taliban, it is highly unlikely that the NATO defense ministers take a firm decision on the future engagement in Afghanistan.
NATO took control of international security operations in Afghanistan in 2003, two years after a US-led coalition ousted the Taliban for harbouring Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. It’s the military alliance’s longest, costliest and most ambitious operation ever.
At present NATO has 10,000 troops in Afghanistan to help train and advise the security forces, most of them are not US troops.