Wednesday Apr 14, 2021
BRUSSELS: A joint meeting between United States officials and NATO allies is set to take place Wednesday in Brussels in the backdrop of America's announcement that US troops will leave Afghanistan by September 11 this year.
The United States announced it will begin withdrawing US forces from Afghanistan on May 1 and the withdrawal will be completed by September 11, 2021.
US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd James III and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg will take the foreign and defense ministers of European countries into confidence on the US withdrawal and set a timetable for the withdrawal of NATO's European allies. The officials will address the NATO foreign and defense minsters' conference.
NATO sources told this correspondent that it is yet to be decided how long NATO's European allies will remain in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of the US.
Among the NATO allies, after the United States, Germany has the largest military presence in Afghanistan. European countries also demanded that modern US weapons remain in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US forces.
This joint meeting of NATO allies with US officials is the first of its kind in which a comprehensive strategy for the withdrawal from Afghanistan will be worked out.
The European allies of NATO have long been pushing for withdrawal from Afghanistan because of the loss of life and property as a result of the war in Afghanistan. European public opinion has turned against this war.
Amid this backdrop, there was intense tension between the Europeans and the United States over aid, especially under former US President Donald Trump. There was a diplomatic crisis between the US and Germany.
America's announcement to withdraw its troops aims to achieve the goals of the UN-sponsored Afghanistan Conference in Istanbul on April 24, as the Afghan Taliban threatened on Tuesday that if the US-Talliban agreement signed on February 2020 in Doha for the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan was not honoured, they will boycott the Istanbul Conference.
The Istanbul Conference is to decide the formula for power sharing between the Afghan Taliban and the Ghani administration and other warring factions in Afghanistan.
Pakistan, Iran, Russia, China and the US will participate in the Istanbul Conference.
Ten years ago, a similar conference was boycotted by Pakistan held in Bonn in 2011. The reason for the boycott was the bombing of Pakistan's tribal areas by NATO forces in which a number of Pakistani soldiers were martyred.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken thanked the secretary-general and stressed the session's importance.
"This is an important moment for our alliance. After the United States was attacked on 9/11 two decades ago, we went to Afghanistan together to deal with those who attacked us," he said.
The US official said Washington and its allies went to Afghanistan to make sure the country would not become a "haven for terrorists again".
Blinken said that the target they had set 20 years ago was achieved, adding that now is the time to withdraw from Afghanistan and bring their troops home.
"President Biden will speak about this in a few hours in the United States, and I'm here to work closely with our allies and with the secretary-general, on the principle that we've established from the start," he said.
The secretary of state said Washington and its allies would work very closely together, in the weeks and months ahead, on a safe, deliberate, and coordinated withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan.
"But even as we do that, our commitment to Afghanistan, to its future, will remain and we'll talk about that today as well," he vowed.