NATO to make Afghan decision within weeks
NATO is assessing a request from the alliance’s military authorities to send more troops to Afghanistan and will make a decision on the scale and scope of the mission within weeks, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said.
The request for what Stoltenberg said was “about a few thousand” more troops reflects the West’s alarm about the worsening security situation in Afghanistan, territorial gains by Taliban militants and military and civilian casualties.
“We are now assessing that request. We will make decisions on the scale and scope of the mission within weeks but this is not about returning back to a combat operation in Afghanistan,” he said after meeting British Prime Minister Theresa May.
It was reported in late April that US President Donald Trump’s administration was weighing sending between 3,000 and 5,000 U.S. and coalition troops to Afghanistan.
NATO already has some 13,450 troops in Afghanistan, including about 6900 US military personnel, who are training the Afghan armed forces to eventually take over the country’s defence and security.
In addition, the United States has about 1500 more troops in a parallel mission, part of a counter-terrorism unit that mostly targets pockets of al Qaeda and Islamic State fighters.
Stoltenberg stressed that any new NATO arrivals would not be in a combat role. “It will continue to be a train, assist and advise operation,” he said of the so-called Resolute Support mission that was launched in January 2015 and signalled the end of an official combat role for NATO troops in Afghanistan.
A decision could be taken by NATO defence ministers in June, according to an alliance official. The NATO leaders summit in Brussels on May 25 was probably too soon, the official said.
Facing public fatigue at the long-running conflict, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation has sought to progressively reduce its presence in the country by building up the country’s armed forces, notably creating an air force.
However, loss of territory to Taliban and Islamic militants, a rise in civilian casualties and a fall in the number of Afghan security forces have led the US administration under Trump to review Afghanistan policy.