A rear door gunner on a CH-47, keeps watch on the mountains in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan, May 12, 2013.
Sgt. Jessi Ann McCormick | U.S. Army
WASHINGTON – NATO has not made a final decision regarding the troop withdrawal in Afghanistan, a deadline that is 40 days away, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday.
“All options are on the table and no final decision has been taken, but I think it is extremely important that allies consult closely,” Stoltenberg said ahead of the NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs meeting, which will include Secretary of State Antony Blinken for the first time.
In February 2020, the Trump administration brokered a deal with the Taliban that would usher in a permanent cease-fire and reduced further the U.S. military’s footprint from approximately 13,000 troops to 8,600 by mid-July last year.
By May 2021, all foreign forces would leave Afghanistan, according to the deal. The majority of troops in the war-weary country are from Europe and partner nations. There are about 2,500 U.S. service members currently in Afghanistan.
“The main focus now is to provide support for the renewed efforts to make progress in the peace talks. Peace talks is the only way to find a sustainable political lasting solution to the conflict in Afghanistan and therefore we call on all parties to negotiate in good faith and on the Taliban also to stop providing support to al Qaeda or international terrorist groups,” the NATO chief said adding that the alliance needs “to see a reduction in the level of violence.”
“We will assess, we will consult, and then we will make decisions together as NATO allies,” Stoltenberg told reporters Monday.
Stoltenberg’s comments come one day after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin traveled to Afghanistan to meet with the nation’s leader. The trip, which makes Austin the first Biden Cabinet-level official to visit the war-torn country, comes as Washington considers a potential end to America’s longest war.
The Biden administration has yet to announce its next steps forward in Afghanistan.
The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria have cost U.S. taxpayers more than $1.57 trillion collectively since Sept. 11, 2001, according to a Defense Department report.