Stoltenberg says NATO will face dilemma over Afghanistan

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday evening at a press conference that 2021 will be a “pivotal year for NATO because we need to decide on our presence in Afghanistan.”

Stoltenberg said next month defense ministers will meet to decide but that the organization will face a dilemma. He said it was critical to make sure that Taliban break all ties with international terrorists, including al-Qaeda.

He said the organization welcomed the peace talks taking place between the Taliban and Afghan Republic but added: “There are many challenges, and many uncertainties, but of course, the peace talks are the only path to peace, the only way forward to a peaceful negotiated solution.

“We support those efforts, but at the same time we know that we will be faced with a very difficult dilemma,” he said.

“Next month, NATO’s defence ministers will meet, and they need to decide whether to remain, whether to stay in Afghanistan with our military presence, and then risk being engaged in a prolonged military presence in Afghanistan, or whether to leave, but then risk that Afghanistan once again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists,” he said.

On the issue of a conditions-based withdrawal and whether the Taliban had indeed met those conditions, set out in accordance with the US-Taliban deal signed in February last year, Stoltenberg said: “The more important thing is that we need to make sure that Afghanistan doesn’t once again become a safe haven for international terrorists.

“We have to understand that the reason why we went in to Afghanistan back in almost 20 years ago was the attack on a NATO ally, the 9/11 against the United States, and Taliban has committed in the agreement with the United States to make sure that they don’t work with, they don’t support, they don’t help in any way provide any framework support for international terrorists.

“So the most important condition is to make sure that Taliban meets that requirement, that they break all ties with international terrorists, including al-Qaeda.

“We will of course assess the situation on the ground, we will assess the development in the peace talks and then make our decision,” he said.

But he stated that NATO will “have to be honest and say that that will be a dilemma, it will be difficult. It is, of course, a challenge to stay.

“We have been there for almost 20 years.

“To continue to be militarily involved in Afghanistan is challenging, it has a price and we need to be prepared to stay in a difficult military operation.

“On the other hand, if we leave, then we risk that the gains we have made over the last years, preventing Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for international terrorists, that those gains are lost,” he said.

Stoltenberg pointed out that withdrawing will be a “very difficult decision” but its one that all the alliance nations need to make together “because whatever we do, we need to do it in a coordinated and well-planned way.”

He then singled out Germany and thanked them for their strong commitment to the mission in Afghanistan.

“Germany leads the NATO presence in the north, and Germany really understands that our presence in Afghanistan is about protecting ourselves, our own countries against terrorist attacks.”