NATO chief warns Trump against Afghanistan pullout
'We went into Afghanistan together,' Stoltenberg says. 'And when the time is right, we should leave together in a coordinated and orderly way.'
Amid reports that defeated U.S. President Donald Trump is planning a major withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned Tuesday against a hasty pullout, saying “the price for leaving too soon or in an uncoordinated way could be very high.”
Some 12,000 NATO troops remain in Afghanistan, with more than half of those from non-U.S. allied countries. Trump has repeatedly surprised NATO allies with unilateral military action, or announcements, during his four years in office, at times forcing the alliance to scramble for contingency responses amid fears that military personnel had been put at risk. This included previous unexpected withdrawals from Afghanistan and Syria in December 2018, as well as the targeted killing of the Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani early this year.
Stoltenberg has worked hard over the past four years to keep Trump on board with NATO, but Trump’s recent election defeat to former Vice President Joe Biden appeared to give the secretary-general room to issue some unvarnished criticism of the contemplated withdrawal — and a reminder that NATO forces are in the country in response to an attack on the U.S.
“NATO went into Afghanistan after an attack on the United States to ensure that it would never again be a safe haven for international terrorists,” Stoltenberg said in his statement Tuesday. “Hundreds of thousands of troops from Europe and beyond have stood shoulder to shoulder with American troops in Afghanistan, and over 1,000 of them have paid the ultimate price.”
“We now face a difficult decision,” Stoltenberg continued. “We have been in Afghanistan for almost 20 years, and no NATO ally wants to stay any longer than necessary. But at the same time, the price for leaving too soon or in an uncoordinated way could be very high. Afghanistan risks becoming once again a platform for international terrorists to plan and organize attacks on our homelands. And ISIS could rebuild in Afghanistan the terror caliphate it lost in Syria and Iraq.”
In his statement, Stoltenberg emphasized that NATO had planned to keep troops in Afghanistan to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces through 2024, even with expected, continuing U.S. reductions in forces. While Trump has refused to concede the election, Stoltenberg is among the leaders who have extended congratulations to Biden.
“We went into Afghanistan together,” Stoltenberg said. “And when the time is right, we should leave together in a coordinated and orderly way. I count on all NATO allies to live up to this commitment, for our own security.”