- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 21, 2020

The secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization on Wednesday ruled out the possibility of a premature troop withdrawal from Afghanistan as violence continues to ravage the country.

The comments from Jens Stoltenberg come on the heels of internal disputes from U.S. officials who appear split on a rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country.

“In Afghanistan, NATO has around 12,000 troops,” Mr. Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels. “As part of the peace process, we have adjusted our presence. Any further adjustments remain conditions-based. The Taliban must live up to their commitments, significantly reduce the levels of violence and pave the way for a cease-fire.”

He said alliance members will make a decision to withdraw forces “together, coordinate our efforts based on the principle ‘in together, adjust together, and when the time is right, when the conditions are met, then we will leave together,’ but not before.”

Earlier this month, President Trump tweeted that all U.S. troops will return home by Christmas, an assertion that quickly saw pushback from Pentagon leaders and alarmed both U.S. and NATO allied forces deployed in Afghanistan.

NATO has led coalition counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan since 2003 in the wake of the U.S.’ military incursion in the region. The alliance continues to have a substantial presence in the ongoing mission, dubbed Operation Resolute Support.

Mr. Stoltenberg said the Taliban “must break all ties with al Qaeda and other international terrorist groups.” A February deal between the U.S. and the Taliban paved the way for a troop drawdown on the condition that the organization end ties with al Qaeda and reduce violence.

Amid a recent surge in violence centered in the Helmand province, military leaders have expressed concern that a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan could inspire terrorist organizations to take control of the region.

“They must negotiate in good faith,” Mr. Stoltenberg said of the Taliban. He said recent talks in Doha, Qatar, between Taliban and Afghan government leaders “offer the best chance for peace in a generation. They must preserve the gains made at such high price.”

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