1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, watch CH-47 Chinook helicopters during a dust storm at Forward Operating Base Kushamond, Afghanistan, July 17, while preparing for an air strike mission above circle.
U.S. Army photo
WASHINGTON – NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday that the alliance has not yet decided whether the 10,000 troops in Afghanistan will leave the country by May, under a US-Taliban brokered peace deal.
"The violence must be reduced and the Taliban must stop working with international terrorist groups that are planning terrorist attacks in our countries," Stoltenberg told reporters at the end of a two-day virtual NATO defense ministers' meeting.
Last February, the United States signed a treaty with the Taliban that would initiate a permanent ceasefire and further reduce the US military's footprint from around 13,000 soldiers to 8,600 by mid-July last year.
According to the agreement, all foreign armed forces would have left the war-weary country by May 2021.
"Our goal is to ensure that we have a permanent political deal that will allow us to leave in a way that doesn't undermine our primary objective and that will prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven again [for terrorists]" Stoltenberg said, adding, "That is also the reason why we will further evaluate the situation before we make a final decision about our future."
Jens Stoltenberg, 13th Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, speaks to the media on February 11, 2020 at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.
Thierry Monasse / Getty Images
"The majority of the troops come from European allies and partner countries. We will do whatever is necessary to ensure that our troops are safe," said Stoltenberg when asked whether the alliance would be prepared for violence if the deal with the Taliban is reached is broken.
There are approximately 2,500 U.S. troops in the country. It is currently planned that the US will withdraw American soldiers from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told NATO members that the Biden administration is "conducting a thorough review of the terms of the US-Taliban agreement to determine whether all parties have respected those terms," according to a Pentagon ad from the meeting.
"He assured allies that the US would not make a hasty or disorderly withdrawal from Afghanistan," the statement added.
The Pentagon has previously said that the withdrawal of US troops in Afghanistan would depend on the Taliban's commitments to uphold the peace deal brokered last year.
The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have cost US taxpayers more than $ 1.57 trillion since September 11, 2001, according to a Department of Defense report. The war in Afghanistan, now the longest conflict in America, began 19 years ago and cost US taxpayers $ 193 billion, according to the Pentagon.
Stoltenberg also said Thursday that the NATO alliance had decided to expand its security training mission in Iraq. The military alliance agreed to increase its presence from 500 employees to around 4,000.
"Our presence is conditional and the troop increases will be gradual," he said, adding that the Iraqi government has requested an expanded mission.