The fate of NATO's 9,600-strong support mission in Afghanistan is at the top of the agenda Photo: AFP
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NATO puts holds on Afghanistan decision, expands in Iraq

5 Comments
By Max DELANY

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Thursday the alliance had made "no final decision" on the future of its Afghanistan mission, as new U.S. President Joe Biden weighs pulling out troops.

While defense ministers held off on making that call at a two-day virtual conference, they did decide to expand a NATO training mission in Iraq from 500 to "around 4,000" personnel.

The fate of NATO's 9,600-strong support mission in Afghanistan was top of the agenda after former U.S. leader Donald Trump struck a deal with the Taliban to pull troops out.

Biden's administration is reviewing whether to stick to a looming May 1 deadline to withdraw the remaining 2,500 U.S. troops or risk a bloody backlash from the insurgents by staying.

"We are faced with many dilemmas and there are no easy options. At this stage, we have made no final decision on the future of our presence," Stoltenberg said at a news conference. "But as the May 1st deadline is approaching, NATO allies will continue to closely consult and coordinate in the coming weeks."

Stoltenberg insisted the Taliban must live up to commitments under the deal with the U.S., including making progress in peace talks with Kabul, reducing violence and cutting ties to "international terrorist groups".

"NATO's goal is to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists that would attack our homelands," he said.

The Taliban has launched a string of offensives threatening at least two provincial capitals and warned NATO ministers not to seek a "continuation of occupation and war" by staying.

"The protection of our troops remains paramount, and we will take all necessary measures to keep them safe," Stoltenberg said.

Allies are waiting anxiously for Biden to make his decision on whether to end two decades of involvement in Afghanistan -- but say they are willing to remain if the U.S. stays too.

While Trump cut U.S. forces to just 2,500 troop in January, from nearly 13,000 a year earlier, the other NATO members rely on the American capabilities to keep the mission going.

U.S.officials said new Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, keen to revitalize ties after years of tensions under Trump, was going to listen to the allies and pass on their input to Biden.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed the review with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in a call on Wednesday and vowed the U.S. would consult closely "on the way ahead", Washington said.

In a statement the Pentagon said Austin told NATO allies that Washington remains "committed to a diplomatic effort to end the war."

Austin also reassured them "that the U.S. would not undertake a hasty or disorderly withdrawal from Afghanistan," the Pentagon said.

On Iraq, defense ministers agreed to bolster a NATO training mission aimed at strengthening the country's military as it looks to curb the resurgence of the Islamic State group.

"The size of our mission will increase from 500 personnel to around 4,000," Stoltenberg said, adding that the increases would be incremental.

"Training activities will now include more Iraqi security institutions, and areas beyond Baghdad."

Stoltenberg insisted that the mission was being carried out "at the request of the Iraqi government".

"It is carried out with full respect for Iraq's sovereignty and territorial integrity," he said.

NATO has had a small non-combat mission in the country since 2018 to train and advise Iraqi forces.

The alliance announced plans to expand the mission last year under pressure from Trump to increase NATO's role in the Middle East.

That move was put on hold by the coronavirus pandemic and worries about instability, but is now being pushed through with strong backing from Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi.

There is currently also a force from a U.S.-led coalition against IS based mainly in the northern city of Arbil in Iraq's Kurdish region.

Since Iraq declared victory over IS in late 2017, the coalition presence has been reduced to fewer than 3,500 troops, of whom 2,500 are American.

The expanded NATO mission is expected to take over some of the training currently being conducted by the anti-IS coalition.

The announcement comes amid fears over rising tensions in Iraq after a rocket attack on Monday killed a foreign contractor for the U.S. military in Arbil.

© 2021 AFP

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

5 Comments
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It does appear that NATO is not going to pull out from Afghanistan or Iraq, irrespective of what new US admin is intending to do in Mideast.

NATO has its own covert agenda, they want to take more advantage of the two war devastated nations. Does anyone like that?

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

The main reason which is being a barrier for the stability and peace of Afghanistan is Taliban. Whereas the world is aware that the terrorism is funded and supported by Pakistan. Which has reached to a level of mass destruction and disturbance in Afghanistan. The main thing Afghanistan should focus on is how to be a peace nation and the stability, And it must lie within the hands of Afghanistan and not Pakistan.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Whereas the world is aware that the terrorism is funded and supported by Pakistan.

Indeed. But some might say that the bombing of civilians and hospitals by the US is also terrorism.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

It does appear that NATO is not going to pull out from Afghanistan or Iraq, irrespective of what new US admin is intending to do in Mideast.

NATO has its own covert agenda, they want to take more advantage of the two war devastated nations. Does anyone like that?

It would never occur to the suspicious mind like yours that there are those among the NATO powers who remember what happened when the west abandoned Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal. There probably would not have been a 9-11 and subsequent NATO invasion of Afghanistan if the US and NATO had remained engaged in Afghanistan in the 1990s and kept the warlords there from the intramural warfare that gave the Taliban their chance to seize power. Same thing now in Iraq. Abandoning Iraq now only helps Iran and does nothing for the majority of the Iraqi people. Unless you want some Islamic caliphates sending terrorists to your city because you and yours are "infidels" who must be killed.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

But some might say that the bombing of civilians and hospitals by the US is also terrorism.

Do you understand that Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan had been taken over by Taliban and AQ forces and was being used as a command post. They thought they were being clever by taking over a hospital, the US would not attack.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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