NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Wednesday said that the alliance has decided to start the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan by May 1.
"Our drawdown will be orderly, coordinated, and deliberate". Stoltenberg said at a joint press conference with the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin. “We went into Afghanistan together, we have adjusted our posture together, and we are united in leaving together."
He called the move "the start of a new chapter" in NATO's relationship with Afghanistan, saying "Allies and partners will continue to stand with the Afghan people, but it is now for the Afghan people to build a sustainable peace".
He said NATO forces have been in Afghanistan for almost 20 years.
“Standing shoulder to shoulder, we have paid a high price, in both blood and in treasure. Thousands of our troops from Allied and many partner nations, and from Afghanistan, have paid the ultimate price. Many more have been wounded,” he said. “We have also helped to build the Afghan security forces from scratch. With great bravery and professionalism, they have provided security across their country over the last years,” he said.
Stoltenberg said that over a year ago, NATO has welcomed the US-Taliban agreement and the US-Afghanistan Joint Declaration, adding that since then, they have gradually reduced their troop presence as part of the peace process.
According to him, currently there are around 10,000 troops in Afghanistan – the majority from non-US Allies and partner countries.
“We have been closely consulting on our presence in Afghanistan over the last weeks and months,” the NATO chief. "We plan to complete the drawdown of all our troops within a few months,” he added.
Stoltenberg warned that “any Taliban attacks on our troops during this period will be met with a forceful response.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said they will leave Afghanistan together and "bring our troops home.
“After years of saying that, we will leave at some point, that time has come," Blinken said. "The threat from Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan is significantly degraded. Osama Bin Laden has been brought to justice. We have achieved our original objective."
He said that an indefinite presence of troops will not favor their interests.
“We don't believe that maintaining an indefinite troop presence in Afghanistan, is in our interests, not for the United States, not for NATO and our Allies,” he said.
“We'll pursue a durable, and just political settlement between the government of Afghanistan and the Taliban, and we’ll engage other countries that have a major stake in a stable future for Afghanistan and will now have to step up. after years of NATO underwriting stability,” he mentioned.
Blinken said that the US will continue to support the Afghan government and provide assistance to the Afghan security forces “who have fought and continue to fight valiantly at a great cost on behalf of their country, and we’ll keep investing in the well being the Afghan people.”
“We’ll bring our diplomatic and development resources to bear, to protect and build upon the gains that the Afghan people have made in recent years,” he said.
Blinken said the United States will continue support for the rights of Afghan women and girls, minorities advocating for their meaningful participation in the ongoing negotiations, and their equal representation throughout society.
"We’ll maintain significant humanitarian assistance to those in need," he said.
Meanwhile, US Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin said that their troops have accomplished the mission that they were sent to Afghanistan to accomplish.
“And they have much for which to be proud. Their services and their sacrifices, alongside those of our Resolute Support and Afghan partners, make possible the greatly diminished threat to all of our homelands from Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups,” he said.
US President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced the full withdrawal of United States troops from Afghanistan, who have stayed in the country for nearly 20 years, an announcement that was accompanied by concerns of plunging the war-ravaged country into a new civil war.
Biden said that it has been 10 years since Osama Bin Laden's death, and it is time to end America's war in the country and to bring US troops home.
“We will begin our withdrawal on May 1,” Biden said, adding that it will not be a “hasty rush to the exit,” and if the Taliban attacks, the US will defend itself and partners with “all the tools at our disposal.”
Announcing a full withdrawal from the country, Biden said, "We went to Afghanistan because of a horrific attack that happened 20 years ago."
"That cannot explain why we should remain there in 2021," he added.