Thursday 22 February 2018

Nato allies agree to maintain stable military presence in Afghanistan

Secretary general Jens Stoltenberg at the Nato summit in Warsaw, Poland (AP)
Secretary general Jens Stoltenberg at the Nato summit in Warsaw, Poland (AP)

Nato allies have agreed to maintain a stable military presence in Afghanistan, bolstered by President Barack Obama's decision to make a smaller cut in US troop levels than he had initially planned.

Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg said the allies also made commitments to continue to fund the Afghan security forces through until 2020, and are "close to" the five billion dollars (£3.8 billion) per year needed.

"We are very close and I am certain we will reach that level," Mr Stoltenberg told reporters following a meeting on Afghanistan on the second day of a Nato summit in Poland.

Mr Obama has been urging Nato leaders gathered in Warsaw to expand their support for the war against the Taliban.

The US has pledged to provide 3.5 billion dollars (£2.7 billion) annually to fund Afghan forces, and the government in Kabul is expected to contribute as much as 500 million dollars (£386 million). Allies would provide the remaining one billion dollars (£772 million), and those are the commitments that Mr Stoltenberg said are nearly complete. The funding would maintain a total of 352,000 Afghan army troops and police officers.

Mr Stoltenberg said it is too soon to say exactly how many troops allies will agree to keep in Afghanistan under Nato's Resolute Support training and advisory mission.

But he said he believed that, based on commitments made on Saturday, force levels will remain largely stable at about 12,000. Specific numbers will be finalised this autumn, he said.

Earlier this week, Mr Obama announced he would keep 8,400 US troops in the country, rather than cut their numbers to 5,500 as he had once planned.

The Warsaw summit, Nato's first in two years, is considered by many to be the alliance's most important since the Cold War.

Mr Stoltenberg said Nato, founded in 1949, needs to adapt to confront an array of new threats to its member nations' security, including cyberattacks and violent extremism sparked by radical Muslim organisations such as Islamic State.

On Friday, Nato leaders approved the deployment of four multinational battalions to Poland and the Baltic states to deter Russia, as well as a Romanian-Bulgarian brigade for the Black Sea region. Germany will lead a multinational battalion in Lithuania, with similar battalions to be led by the United States in Poland, Britain in Estonia and Canada in Latvia.

Those moves were strongly criticised on Saturday by Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet president during the Cold War.

"Nato has begun preparations for escalating from the Cold War into a hot one," Mr Gorbachev was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

"All the rhetoric in Warsaw just yells of a desire almost to declare war on Russia. They only talk about defence, but actually are preparing for offensive operations."

Press Association

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