NATO head says alliance signed off on US withdrawal from Afghanistan
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed that the military alliance gave approval for the Biden administration’s complete withdrawal from Afghanistan, pushing back on speculation that leaders voiced objections to the decision.
In an interview with The New York Times published Friday, the NATO chief said that none of the alliance’s members voiced objections to President Biden’s plan to leave Afghanistan before his announcement in April.
At the time, he aimed for a complete withdrawal by Sept. 11, the 20 anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.
Those familiar with Stoltenberg’s thinking at the time said that he was not pleased with Biden’s decision not to implement a “conditional withdrawal” that would have required the Taliban to reach a negotiated political solution with the Afghan government, though the NATO chief declined to confirm this to the Times.
Stoltenberg said that while NATO would have preferred to achieve a political solution in Afghanistan, he noted that the “problem was that the Taliban did not want to negotiate if the government in Kabul was part of those negotiations.”
“We were all aware that this was a difficult decision and we were faced with a difficult dilemma,” he told the Times. “Threaten to leave and risk the Taliban returning, or to stay, but then with more fighting and more casualties.”
Stoltenberg, noted that it “was hard for other allies to continue without the United States,” and explained that the decision was made in April to withdraw troops from Afghanistan “and all allies agreed.”
“So, I felt that after the decision was made, then the main focus was on how to make sure that we were able to implement it in the best possible way,” he added.
The news from the NATO chief comes as Biden has continued to receive widespread criticism for his handling of the withdrawal, which many of the president’s critics have blamed for the Taliban’s rapid consolidation of power in the country.
However, Biden has continued to stand by his decision, arguing that the risks to U.S. citizens and Afghan allies would have grown stronger the longer they remained in Afghanistan.
Stoltenberg in his interview with the Times also pushed back on growing support among some European Union leaders for the development of an independent military force for the regional bloc, arguing that “any attempt to weaken the bond between Europe and North America will not only weaken NATO, it will divide Europe itself.”
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