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NATO Secretary General (SecGen) Jens Stoltenberg visited the lslamic Republic of Afghanistan on 6 November, accompanied by the Chairman of the Military Committee (MC), Air Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, and the Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR), Gen Curtis Scaparrotti. During his visit, the SecGen met with Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and other Afghan ministers and senior officials, as well as with representatives of Afghan society. He also talked to the Resolute Support Commander, Gen Austin Scott Miller, with NATO's Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan, Ambassador Cornelius Zimmermann, and with troops contributing to the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission.

During a joint press conference with President Ghani, Mr Stoltenberg said that NATO remains fully committed to the Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, reminding journalists of the clear message from the NATO Summit in July, that the Atlantic Alliance will remain committed to its mission in Afghanistan and will continue to support the Afghan security forces and government.
Mr Stoltenberg congratulated President Ghani and the people of Afghanistan on the parliamentary elections, saying “Four million people voted, a third of whom were women. In the face of Taliban threats, the Afghan people showed determination to stand and be counted – with resilience and courage […] Effective security is important to safeguard democracy. And for the first time, the Afghan forces assumed full responsibility for security during the elections. This is an important achievement. I look forward to a smooth completion of the election process.”

He believes in positive developments in the country in the run up to next spring’s presidential election. “That’s why around 16,000 troops from 39 different countries serve in our Resolute Support Mission. Together, we train, advise and assist the Afghan forces as they work to make this country safer and more secure. And prevent it from ever again becoming a safe haven for international terrorism.”

In a meeting with President Ghani in which he was briefed about current security challenges, Mr Stoltenberg confirmed NATO’s commitment to support Afghanistan. “At the NATO Summit we decided to sustain our presence until conditions indicate a change is appropriate. And to extend financing to the Afghan forces through 2024. Our support is improving the Afghan Special Forces and Air Force in particular. There are now more than 20,000 Afghan Special Operations Forces. Among the very best in this region. And last year, the Afghan Air Force conducted more than 2,000 missions.”

Mr Stoltenberg made it clear that the security situation in Afghanistan is extremely serious and no-one should underestimate the current threats and challenges. Afghan soldiers are on the frontline of this conflict and many are killed or wounded every week, while at the same time the insurgents keep on killing scores of Afghan civilians. Therefore, the SecGen sent a strong political message to the Taliban, saying “I call on the Taliban and other insurgent groups to stop killing their fellow Afghans. The use of suicide bombers in urban areas and the indiscriminate use of roadside bombs demonstrates a careless disregard for civilian lives. The Taliban must understand that continuing the fight is pointless and counterproductive. To be part of Afghanistan’s future, they must sit down at the negotiating table.”

As a consequence, the Atlantic Alliance welcomed President Ghani’s peace proposal and the successful ceasefire in June 2018. According to Mr Stoltenberg, the potential for peace is greater now than it has been for many years, stating “So we need an Afghan-led and an Afghan-owned peace process. And it must be inclusive. We also count on the government to meet its commitments for good governance, the rule of law, fighting corruption, and protecting the rights of all – especially women. And I call on all countries in the region to play a constructive role. And to deny safe haven to extremist groups. NATO stands with Afghanistan.” He added that stability in Afghanistan is not only important for its own security, but also for that of the Atlantic Alliance. Thus, both sides need to stand together in the fight against international terrorism.

President Ghani thanked Mr Stoltenberg for his support and NATO’s ongoing efforts to develop peace and stability in Afghanistan. Looking at recent progress in his country, he observed “The reforms of our security forces are completely new and have not happened like this in the past.” He underlined that there is no alternative for Afghanistan but to find “a political solution” with the Taliban in order to establish a long-term peace process.

In a Joint Statement on the Resolute Support Mission at the NATO Summit in July, the Heads of State and Government reaffirmed their shared commitment to Afghanistan’s security and stability. “We reiterate our call to the Taliban to engage credibly in the Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process and stress that this is the only pathway to a sustainable resolution of the conflict,” and went on to highlight that a stable Afghanistan is not only in the interests of the Western world, but also in those of the entire region. NATO’s political leaders welcomed Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, who are joining the Resolute Support Mission, and encouraged other interested countries to join and contribute as well. Finally, they reaffirmed their commitment to sustain the Resolute Support Mission, which delivers training, advice and assistance; to extend financial sustainment of the Afghan forces through 2024; and to make further progress in developing a political partnership with Afghanistan.

Theodor Benien

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was welcomed to Kabul by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. (Photo: NATO)

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