NATO Chief Concerned About Withdrawing Troops from Afghanistan ‘Too Soon’

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks at a NATO defense meeting via teleconference at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, June 17, 2020. (Francois Lenoir/Pool via Reuters)

The head of NATO expressed concern on Tuesday that Afghanistan could once again become “a platform for international terrorists” if troops are withdrawn too soon or in an uncoordinated way.

Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg’s comments come one day after reports indicated that U.S. military commanders expect President Trump to issue a formal order to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan and Iraq before he leaves office on January 20. The Associated Press reports that Trump is expected to withdraw nearly half of U.S. troops in Afghanistan by mid-January, to 2,500, while CNN and Fox News have said the Pentagon has issued a “warning order” to commanders to prepare to draw down troops in Iraq as well.

Stoltenberg said that NATO would “face a difficult decision” if the U.S. decides to withdraw from Afghanistan, where U.S. troops make up roughly 50 percent of the fewer than 12,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan offering training and assistance to national security forces, according to the Associated Press.

“We have been in Afghanistan for almost 20 years, and no NATO ally wants to stay any longer than necessary,” Stoltenberg said in a statement. “But at the same time, the price for leaving too soon or in an uncoordinated way could be very high.” 

Afghanistan “risks becoming once again a platform for international terrorists to plan and organize attacks on our homelands. And ISIS (Islamic State) could rebuild in Afghanistan the terror caliphate it lost in Syria and Iraq,” he said.

There are currently roughly 4,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and 3,000 troops in Iraq.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Monday pushed back against the prospect of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, saying, “A rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan now would hurt our allies and delight the people who wish us harm.”

“President Trump deserves major credit for reducing American forces in Afghanistan to a sustainable level,” he said. “That same successful approach should continue.”

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