NATO Secretary General Jen Stoltenberg on Tuesday hailed Washington’s efforts to find a diplomatic and peaceful solution to the 17-year long war in Afghanistan and said that a potential peace deal between the US and the Taliban will also have implications on the presence of NATO and US forces in the country.
“First of all, I would like to commend ambassador (Zalmay) Khalilzad for his efforts and the hard work and his commitment to really find a solution and we all want a peaceful negotiated political solution to the crisis in Afghanistan. I totally agree with him (Khalilzad) that this is not about negotiating to leave there, this is about negotiating a peace deal. Peace deal may have implications for the presence of NATO and US troops in Afghanistan,” he said.
Speaking at a press conference ahead of the NATO defense ministers meeting in Brussels, scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, NATO’s chief said the aim of the coalition in Afghanistan is to combat terrorism and to create conditions for a peaceful settlement to the crisis and to train and support the Afghan security forces.
“The aim for NATO in Afghanistan is to fight terrorism and to create the conditions for a peaceful solution and training and supporting the Afghan security forces,” added Stoltenberg.
“We will also discuss NATO missions and operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo. In Afghanistan, the situation remains difficult. But we also see efforts for peace. Allies have been kept closely updated by the United States. We continue to consult on the implications of a possible peace deal and how NATO can support it,” said Stoltenberg.
Meanwhile, President Ashraf Ghani has paid tribute to the sacrifices made by the US forces in Afghanistan.
He said that Afghanistan pays tribute to the 2,419 US officers who sacrificed their lives fighting in Afghanistan and over a million American men and women who have served in the country over the years.
This comes a day after US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad met NATO and European Union (EU) officials as part of his fresh diplomatic efforts to engage in purposeful peace talks with the Taliban who has waged war against the Afghan government and foreign troops since 2001.
“Spent today in Brussels talking to EU & NATO partners. Encouraged by their strong endorsement on the progress we’ve made on a peace process. Our shared purpose is to reach a peace agreement (not a withdrawal agreement) that is worthy of the sacrifices made over decades of war,” Khalilzad tweeted on Tuesday.
“We went into Afghanistan together, and together we will determine our future posture, based on conditions we determine with Afghans. We also agreed that jumpstarting the intra-Afghan dialogue is an immediate priority,” he said.
Khalilzad, who is on a six-nation trip to discuss the Afghan peace process said Tuesday while meeting with EU and NATO partners in Brussels that their shared purpose is to reach a peace agreement and not a withdrawal agreement.
This comes after acting US Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan met with President Ashraf Ghani on Monday in Kabul to reaffirm commitment to Afghanistan through the implementation of Trump’s South Asia strategy.
The leaders discussed a broad range of defense issues, including the importance of the US-Afghan security relationship and of achieving a political settlement to the war that ensures Afghanistan is never again used as a safe haven for terrorists, the Pentagon said.
“Secretary Shanahan praised the sacrifices made by Afghan and Coalition troops and reaffirmed our continued support to Afghan forces as they lead the fight to defend their country,” according to the Pentagon. Afghanistan
Shanahan arrived unannounced in Afghanistan on Monday to meet with US commanders and Afghan leaders.
In June last year, NATO defense ministers discussed the Alliance’s training mission in Afghanistan, and its continuing support to the Afghan government and Afghan security forces.
“Our aim is to strengthen the Afghan security forces so they can create the conditions for a peaceful solution”, said Stoltenberg at the time.
Meanwhile, the Taliban said in a statement it has finalized a 14-memebr negotiating team with the US under the leadership of former head of Taliban’s Qatar office Abbas Stanakzai.
Among the Taliban’s 14-member negotiating team is Anas Haqqani who is currently being held in prison in Afghan.
The Taliban has called for the swift release of Haqqani, saying he has not committed any crime.
The Taliban has however until now refused to engage in dialogue with the Afghan government.