BRUSSELS: NATO member countries on Wednesday met in Brussels to coordinate the alliance’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, as the war-torn country’s peace talks are expected to resume in Istanbul later this month with Turkey’s mediator role.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s top national security aides were consulting with NATO for the withdrawal from Afghanistan with the planned pullout of American troops by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin met senior officials from the alliance’s 30 members, including Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, to discuss NATO’s future presence in Afghanistan in light of the announcement of the U.S. withdrawal.
Blinken said that he expected the allies to withdraw together but maintained that neither the U.S. nor NATO would abandon the country despite the impending pullout. There are roughly 7,000 NATO forces including Turkish troops still in Afghanistan in addition to the remaining 2,500 U.S. troops.
“Together, we went into Afghanistan to deal with those who attacked us and to make sure that Afghanistan would not again become a haven for terrorists who might attack any of us,” Blinken said. “And together, we have achieved the goals that we set out to achieve. And now it is time to bring our forces home.”
“We will work very closely together in the weeks and months ahead on a safe, deliberate and coordinated withdrawal of our forces from Afghanistan,” he said. He added that the mantra that has guided NATO’s Resolute Support mission has been “in together, adapt together and out together.”
The coalition operation in Afghanistan has a special resonance with NATO as its deployment marked the first time the alliance invoked its Article 5 mutual defense pact, which holds that an attack on one member is an attack on all.
Blinken and NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg kicked off Wednesday’s meetings at NATO headquarters in Brussels by recalling the alliance’s success in driving Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network from Afghanistan.
Stoltenberg said that the meetings would be focused on “our future presence in Afghanistan” and that the alliance, which makes decisions on the basis of consensus, could be expected to make those plans known in the near future.