NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated the Alliance’s strong commitment to Afghanistan’s long-term security and the peace process and said they would adjust their presence according to the developments.
“The main reasons why we also have made it clear that we will only leave Afghanistan when the time is right, is that we have to make sure that Afghanistan doesn’t once again become a country where Al Qaeda, [and] other terrorist organisations can operate freely,” Stoltenberg said during a press conference after the NATO Defence Ministers meeting on Wednesday.
He called on the Taliban to live up to their commitments from the Doha peace deal signed with the U.S., which included breaking ties with other terrorist organisations and reducing violence, before the Afghan peace process.
“We haven’t seen the reduction in violence that we expect and that we think is necessary to see, to really underpin the peace efforts,” he evaluated.
“Taliban has to break all bonds with Al Qaeda and other terrorist organisations. This is actually a very explicit condition in the agreement with Taliban.”
Stoltenberg also spoke about the Alliance’s strategy of a slow pull-out from Afghanistan which they are calling Phase A-Light which saw them cut down from roughly 16,000 troops to around 12,000 troops.
“We maintained the bases, the regional presence of the NATO forces in Afghanistan, including with a German-led presence in Mazar-i-Sharif in the north [Balkh], with many other Allies. And also the Italian-led presence in Herat, in the west of Afghanistan.”
Stoltenberg also said they are discussing “different options, different possibilities” for further reductions with the U.S. and other NATO members.
“We are prepared to further reduce that presence in a coordinated, planned and orderly way. But of course, that depends on the peace process.”
When asked about the corruption within the Afghan government and the importance of tackling it, Stoltenberg acknowledged it was a problem in Afghanistan.
“Part of NATO’s presence in Afghanistan is to support efforts is to help to fight corruption, because corruption is like a disease. It really, really undermines the strength of any society,” he said.
“Corruption is a problem. Corruption has to be fought with strength and conviction and with joint efforts and therefore that’s an issue which we, which NATO has raised and is addressing in our dialogue and cooperation with Afghanistan.”