NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday reiterated that the promise to leave Afghanistan and the alliance’s presence in Afghanistan is conditions-based.
“You’re right that in the deal that was signed last year, I was actually in Kabul when the deal was signed in Doha, and in that deal, there is a May 1st deadline. But the promise to leave Afghanistan is conditions-based. Our presence in Afghanistan is conditions-based,” Stoltenberg said.
He said that the Taliban has to meet their commitments.
“What NATO does now is that we, first of all, do whatever we can to support the peace process and the full implementation of the deal. We will only leave when the time is right. And the focus now is how can we support the peace efforts, the peace talks, and reenergise, relaunch a new strength, a new momentum in the peace talks, because that’s the only path to peace,” the NATO chief said.
“We have made decisions on adjusting our presence together. And we will also make the decision, when the time is right, to leave together. So what we can do now is to coordinate, consult. We are going to have a discussion tomorrow; I’ll not pre-empt the outcome of that discussion. But Allies are coordinating closely, all Allies, including, of course, the United States. And then we will make a decision together,” he said.
He also mentioned that the NATO Allies welcome that message from the United States, not least because there is a significant non-US presence in Afghanistan.
“There are roughly 10,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan now, and the majority of them are not from the United States. And I think that demonstrates the value of NATO also for the United States, because the United States, when they went into Afghanistan, they didn’t go alone. They have been supported by NATO Allies with tens of thousands of troops for now close to two decades. So, of course, the United States is the biggest force contributor to our mission in Afghanistan, but not the only one. Many Allies, many partners,” he further said.
NATO secretary general said that they the peace process together.
“We are calling on Taliban to reduce violence, to negotiate in good faith and to stop supporting international terrorists like al Qaeda. And then we will make the necessary decisions together. But I think the main focus now should be on reenergising the peace talks, because that’s the only way to a peaceful solution,” he added.
NATO defense ministers in their two-day virtual meeting will address NATO’s missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, review progress toward fairer burden-sharing, and discuss the NATO 2030 initiative.
Continued violence will jeopardize peace
Gen. Austin S. Miller, the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said that “If the violence isn’t reduced, it’s going to make a peace process very, very difficult; it would be very difficult for any side to make the necessary compromises,” Reuters reported.
“Taliban violence is much higher than historical norms,” Miller told Reuters. “It just doesn’t create the conditions to move forward in what is hopefully a historic turning point for Afghanistan.”
Miller said that the fighting now was an indicator that not only would there be a spring offensive – a move many diplomats view as against the spirit of the Doha agreement – but that it could be more intense than before.
It comes as negotiations have largely stalled in Doha in recent weeks and Taliban leaders have left Qatar, a senior state department official told Reuters, leading to growing fears that talks could be on the brink of collapse.
Taliban ties with Al-Qaeda
Taliban has kept up a close relationship with Al-Qaeda despite having pledged to stop cooperating with the group, according to the head of a UN panel monitoring the insurgency reported by NBC news.
“We believe that the top leadership of Al-Qaeda is still under Taliban protection,” said the head of the UNB panel that tracks terrorist groups in Afghanistan.
The Taliban’s association with Al-Qaeda has continued even though the Taliban signed an agreement with the US a year ago that bans cooperation with or hosting of groups — and despite a public statement by Trump administration Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that the Taliban had “made the break with terrorist groups.”
“There is still clearly a close relationship between Al Qaeda and the Taliban,” said Edmund Fitton-Brown, the coordinator of the UN panel responsible for tracking the Taliban and terrorist groups in Afghanistan.
The reports of the UN Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team are based in part on information shared by foreign governments’ intelligence services.
“We believe that the top leadership of Al Qaeda is still under Taliban protection,” he said.
According to the UN monitoring team’s last report in January, there are 200 to 500 Al-Qaeda fighters across about 11 Afghan provinces.