NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in a pre-ministerial press conference on Monday reiterated that the presence of the alliance’s troops in Afghanistan is "conditions-based," saying “we will not leave before the time is right.”
“Our common goal is clear. Afghanistan should never again serve as a haven for terrorists to attack our homelands. So, our presence is conditions-based,” Stoltenberg said. While no ally wants to stay in Afghanistan longer than necessary, we will not leave before the time is right.”
He said that NATO has significantly adjusted its presence as part of the Afghan peace process, but added:
“However, peace talks remain fragile and the level of violence remains unacceptably high, including the Taliban attacks on civilians. The Taliban must reduce violence, negotiate in good faith and live up to their commitment to stop cooperating with international terrorist groups,” he said.
NATO strongly supports the peace process in Afghanistan, Stoltenberg said, adding that “this is the best chance for a lasting political solution.”
He said NATO defense ministers will continue to assess the situation on the ground in Afghanistan and monitor developments very closely.
“We will continue to take more measures to ensure the safety of our troops and consider next steps in a deliberate and coordinated way,” he said.
Stoltenberg reiterated that NATO’s priority is that Afghanistan does not become a safe haven for terrorists once again.
“We also realize that one of the best weapons we have in the fight against terrorism is to train local forces,” he said.
He said that NATO will “closely consult” on the way forward in Afghanistan and that all allies support the Afghan peace process and that no ally wants to stay in Afghanistan longer than necessary, but the threat of the country being used as a safe haven for terrorists must be considered.
Referring to Afghan concerns over losing the gains the country has achieved in the last two decades, he said: “I hear the calls from many Afghans on not jeopardizing the gains… That's the reason we should take the decisions very seriously.”