'No decision' made on troop presence in Afghanistan, says Nato

Up to 10,000 Nato troops remain in Afghanistan

Nato soldiers, such as these pictured in Torkham area near the Pakistan-Afghanistan in 2014, help train and advise Afghan forces. Reuters
Powered by automated translation

Nato has made "no decision" on the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, Nato Spokesperson Oana Lungescu told The National after reports that foreign troops would be staying beyond the deadline set in a US-Taliban deal.

Four senior Nato officials told Reuters "there will be no full withdrawal by allies by April-end" because "conditions have not been met" with the US-Taliban agreement.

The US and the insurgent group agreed that US troops would leave Afghanistan by May if the Taliban cut ties with Al Qaeda and reduced violence.

But up to 10,000 Nato troops remain in Afghanistan, mostly from nations other than the US.

Ms Lungescu dismissed reports of its troops staying beyond May as misleading because a decision had not yet been made.

Ms Lungescu said on Sunday that Nato defence ministers would address Afghanistan at their meeting on February 17-18.

Taliban violence continues to undermine the peace process, and it must end

She said Nato’s mission in Afghanistan remained unchanged.

“We continue to support the Afghan security forces in their fight against terrorism and to secure their country," Ms Lungescu said.

But the 30-member Nato’s presence in the war-torn country is due to Article 5 of the treaty, which evokes the principle of collective defence to support the US from attack.

If the US were to exit, other Nato nations would be likely to withdraw too.

Echoing a widespread sentiment among Nato and European allied nations, Ms Lungescu urged the Taliban to “respect their commitments to cut ties with terrorist groups, to reduce violence, and to engage in meaningful negotiations".

“Taliban violence continues to undermine the peace process, and it must end,” she said.

The recent developments indicate growing opposition to the planned withdrawal of troops in light of a worsening security situation in Afghanistan.

“One could read this as other members of Nato signalling to President Joe Biden’s administration what their preferences are and possibly even trying to box him into a decision to stay beyond May,” said Jonathan Schroden, director at non-profit research and analysis organisation CNA.

“That’s a bit of a dangerous approach but it may influence the US review of the deal, given the Biden administration’s desire to repair relationships with its alliances after [former president Donald] Trump’s damage to them.”

But if other countries decided to stay, it would not technically be a breach of the agreement, Mr Schroden said.

“That deal was only with the US and the Taliban don’t have any deal with Nato," he said.

"That said, I’m sure the Taliban assumed that Nato would go if the US went, so they’d consider other countries staying beyond May as a violation by extension and start targeting them again."

The US has already announced its intention to review the deal signed last year with the Taliban by the Trump administration.

Various officials and government agencies such as the US Treasury have questioned the Taliban’s commitment to the deal, after it continued supporting Al Qaeda.

With the US reviewing its deal with the Taliban, a halt in the withdrawal of foreign troops was imminent, Afghan officials said.

“We have a saying in Dari – 'Aajala kar-e-shaitan ast' – which means that any work done in a hurry is the devil's work," an Afghan security official said.

"And that is what the process in Qatar was, a rushed deal without much thought.

“Everything from the troop withdrawal to the prisoner release was done in a rush, without seeking guarantees that the Taliban will uphold their promises of cutting ties with Al Qaeda. It was bound to fail."

Afghan officials have welcomed the renewed commitment from their international allies, as they continue to negotiate with the Taliban leaders in Qatar. But they remain cautious.

“The Taliban don’t seem to want to make peace, because even after committing to their demands they continue to target and kill civilians in Afghanistan,” the Afghan official said.

“As an Afghan, I will be the happiest when the international troops leave, but this cannot be done without responsibility and accountability."

Ms Lungescu said: “No Nato ally wants to stay in Afghanistan longer than necessary but we have been clear that our presence remains conditions-based.

"Allies continue to assess the overall situation and to consult on the way forward."