BRUSSELS (dpa) – NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg blamed a failure of the Afghan leadership on Tuesday for the rapid collapse of the country’s armed forces supported by the West, but admitted that the alliance must also remedy deficiencies in its military training program .
NATO has been leading international security efforts in Afghanistan since 2003, but ended the fighting in 2014 to focus on training Afghanistan’s national security forces. NATO helped build an army of around 300,000 soldiers, but that force withered in a matter of days in the face of the Taliban offensive.
« What we have seen in the past few weeks has been a military and political collapse at a rate that was not foreseen, » Stoltenberg told reporters after chairing a meeting of NATO ambassadors.
He said sections of the Afghan army « fought bravely » but « the Afghan political leadership ultimately failed to stand up to the Taliban and achieve the peaceful solution that the Afghans desperately wanted ».
« This failure of the Afghan leadership led to the tragedy we are witnessing today, » said Stoltenberg, who over the years often insisted that the Taliban would only be successful at the negotiating table and never win on the battlefield would.
A year ago, around 10,000 employees from 36 member and partner countries were involved in NATO’s “Resolute Support Mission” to train Afghan security forces. On Sunday, a NATO official said « there are currently no troops in Afghanistan under NATO command ».
Despite the shortcomings exposed in Afghanistan through corruption and poor leadership, the 30-country military alliance believes that training local security forces is the best way to combat extremists like Islamic State and Western troops not to put in danger.
NATO is currently training troops and helping to build national security institutions in Iraq, Jordan and Tunisia and has made similar agreements with Georgia and Moldova. It was also agreed to provide security advice to conflict-ridden Libya « when conditions permit ».
« We have to continue fighting international terrorism, » said Stoltenberg, stressing that NATO’s efforts had contributed to weakening the Al Qaeda network. He said NATO can avoid becoming involved in combat operations if it successfully trains local forces.
But, he admitted: “The big question that we have to ask ourselves honestly and with clear eyes is: Why are the forces that we have trained, equipped and supported over so many years not able? to stand up against the Taliban stronger and better than they did? «
Stoltenberg said NATO’s short-term goal is to ensure, in « extremely serious and unpredictable » circumstances, that personnel from member and partner countries, as well as the Afghans who have helped them, can get out safely.
He said that around 800 civilian personnel from NATO countries remained in Afghanistan, specifically to keep the Kabul airport running, including air traffic control, aircraft refueling and communications personnel.
Stoltenberg also called on the Taliban to respect the wishes of those wishing to leave the country and not to close border crossings or airports. He appealed to the militants to avoid “revenge or retribution” and to ensure a peaceful transfer of power.
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