By Jim Garamone
“In together, out together” was the mantra NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg used in discussing troop levels in Afghanistan at the conclusion of the virtual meeting of defense ministers Friday.
Inter-Afghan peace negotiations have begun and the next months in the nation are crucial, he said. The negotiations between the Afghan government and Taliban are fragile, “but they are best chance for peace in a generation,” Stoltenberg said. “All Afghans should seize this historic opportunity.”
NATO backs the peace process, and the reduction of NATO and partner forces in the country proves that point. The secretary general noted that just a few years ago, the alliance commanded more than 100,000 troops engaged in combat operations. “Now, we have reduced our presence to under 12,000,” he said. “We decided to go into Afghanistan together; we will make decisions about future adjustments together; and we will leave together when the time is right.”
Stoltenberg reiterated what has to happen in Afghanistan for peace. “The Taliban must reduce the unacceptable levels of violence to pave the way for a ceasefire,” he said. They must break all ties with Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups so that Afghanistan never again serves as a platform for terrorist attacks on our countries.”
The gains made in the country since 2001 must endure, not least for women and girls, so that peace benefits every Afghan and is sustainable in the long term, he said.
This was Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper’s sixth NATO Defense Ministerial.
During the meeting, Esper discussed challenges posed by increased Russian aggression, including concerns over their growing missile capabilities, according to a Pentagon readout of the secretary’s remarks yesterday. He also addressed the risks of depending on China for technology and critical infrastructure as they continue to undermine the international global order.
Esper reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to and confidence in the NATO alliance to confront the security challenges of the 21st century.