NATO to match US troop pullout from Afghanistan

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NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, right, and United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken address a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, April 14, 2021. United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Brussels on Wednesday for talks with European and NATO allies about Afghanistan, Ukraine and other matters. (Kenzo Tribouillard, Pool via AP)

BRUSSELS – NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg says the alliance has agreed to withdraw its roughly 7,000 non-American forces from Afghanistan to match U.S. President Joe Biden’s decision to pull all American troops from the country starting on May 1.

Stoltenberg said the full withdrawal would be completed “within a few months” but did not mention the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks set as a goal by Biden. There are between 7,000 and 7,500 non-U.S. NATO troops currently in Afghanistan. The U.S. troop presence stands at roughly 2,000.

"We now have decided to start with withdrawal of all our NATO troops from Afghanistan starting the first of May," Stoltenberg said Wednesday. “We plan to complete the withdrawal of all our troops within a few months.”

“We went into Afghanistan together, we have adjusted our posture together and we are united in leaving together,” he said. He added that any attacks on withdrawing NATO forces would draw a firm and forceful response from the alliance.

Stoltenberg revealed the decision shortly after Biden formally announced his withdrawal plans and after meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

Blinken and Austin spent the day in talks with senior officials from the alliance’s 30 members to discuss Biden's decision and NATO’s future in Afghanistan.

“This is not an easy decision, and this is a decision that contains risks and a decision that requires that we continue to stay focused on Afghanistan,” Stoltenberg said. “This is not an end, but the beginning of a new way of dealing with Afghanistan.”

In a joint news conference with Stoltenberg, Blinken and Austin both repeated the mantra that the alliance went into Afghanistan together and would leave together. But all three maintained that neither the U.S. nor NATO would abandon the country despite the impending pullout.