NATO will match US timeline to pull troops out of Afghanistan

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NATO member countries will begin pulling their troops out of Afghanistan on May 1, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced Wednesday. 

Stoltenberg – who spoke alongside Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin following a meeting in Brussels – said the planned drawdown of the nearly 10,000 NATO troops will be completed within a few months and mirrors Washington’s decision to withdraw its forces from the country.

“In the light of the U.S. decision to withdraw, foreign and defense ministers of NATO discussed a way forward today and decided that we will start the withdrawal of NATO Resolution Support forces by May 1,” he said, referring to the mission began in Afghanistan in 2015 to train, advise and assist the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.

NATO forces have been in the country since 2001 after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in an initial operation intended to oust the Taliban from power and root out al Qaeda’s bases there.

“We went into Afghanistan together, we have adjusted our posture together, and we are united in leaving together,” Stoltenberg said. 

He added that any attacks by the Taliban during the withdrawal will be met with “forceful response.”

Stoltenberg’s comments came shortly after President Biden on Wednesday laid out his plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan and end America’s longest war by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks that sparked the conflict.

“War in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multigenerational undertaking,” Biden said during a speech delivered in the Treaty Room of the White House, where former President George W. Bush announced the start of the war. “It’s time to end the forever war.”

Biden stressed that the U.S. would execute the withdrawal plans in coordination with allies and partners and would continue to provide humanitarian assistance and support peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban.

That sentiment was also expressed by Blinken.

“In short, bringing our troops home does not mean ending our relationship with Afghanistan or our support for the country,” Blinken said in Brussels, committing U.S. support for the rights of Afghan women and girls, equal representation for minorities and that the U.S. will maintain significant humanitarian assistance to the country.

The secretary said the U.S. will “remain vigilant” against preventing any threats of terrorism from emerging in Afghanistan, and hold the Taliban accountable of keeping al Qaeda “or any terrorist organization from using Afghanistan as a base for attacks against us.”

Blinken added that the U.S. is committed to advancing a political resolution between the Afghanistan government and the Taliban.

“It’s very important to note that we are very focused on advancing what prospects there are for a diplomatic resolution to the conflict, pressing the parties to engage in meaningful negotiations to a political outcome and peaceful settlement,” he said. 

Stoltenberg stressed several times that it was “not an easy decision” for NATO to pull out its troops and that the plan “entails risks.”

He also emphasized that the move is “the start of a new chapter” in terms of NATO’s relationship with Afghanistan, adding that the alliance will continue to support the country.

Stoltenberg said he spoke with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani of the “new partnership” earlier Wednesday.

The remarks by Stoltenberg and Blinken come after the Taliban said they will not attend a meeting in Turkey set to take place this week aimed at advancing the Afghan Peace Process and with the participation of the United Nations and Qatar, Reuters reported. The Taliban did not rule out meeting at a future date. 

Blinken said the Taliban “has a choice to make” on engaging productively on peace negotiations.

“I think it’s in no one’s interest, including the Taliban’s, to plunge Afghanistan back into a long war, into a civil war that will do terrible damage to the country and to everyone,” he said.

Tags 9/11 anniversary Afghanistan Afghanistan withdrawal Antony Blinken Brussels Joe Biden Lloyd Austin NATO Sept. 11 terrorist attacks U.S. troops

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