11 October 2020
After President Trump declared on Twitter on 7 October that US troops will be home from Afghanistan by Christmas, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg insisted that NATO members will consult with each other and decide together when to leave Afghanistan.
“We decided to go into Afghanistan together, we will make decisions on future adjustments together, and when the time is right, we will leave together,” Stoltenberg said on 8 October at a news conference. “We will make decisions based on the conditions on the ground, because we think it is extremely important to continue to be committed to the future of Afghanistan, because it is in our interest to preserve the long term security of Afghanistan,” he said.
Not for the first time Trump’s declaration took people by surprise, and it is not yet clear if the US military will work to meet the Christmas deadline. Earlier on 7 October, US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said that the United States would drawdown to 2,500 troops in Afghanistan by early 2021.
The withdrawal of US troops is scheduled to be completed by April or May 2021 in accordance with the February 2020 US-Taliban peace deal, which calls for a complete withdrawal of all “foreign forces”, including NATO troops.
NATO deployed forces to Afghanistan following the 2001 US-led invasion to topple the Taliban-run government following the September 11 attacks in New York. Afghanistan has been gripped by insecurity during the 19-years of Washington’s so-called ‘war on terror’. Many parts of the country remain plagued by militancy despite the presence of US-led international troops.
In an interview on 8 October President Trump also said that US forces are “down to 4,000 troops in Afghanistan. I’ll have them home by the end of the year. They’re coming home, you know, as we speak. Nineteen years is enough”. Trailing in polls just weeks ahead of the 3 November US presidential election, the withdrawal announcement is likely intended to show that Trump is making good on his 2016 promise to end “endless wars”.
Trump’s announcement was welcomed by the Afghan Taliban on 8 October. A spokesman for the group, Mohammad Naeem, described Trump’s announcement as “a positive step towards the implementation of [the] Doha agreement”.
The Taliban also agreed to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula with the Afghan government, and talks to these ends started in Qatar in September. Key differences, including over a ceasefire, remain between the two sides.