At a press conference on Wednesday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg was asked about President Trump’s recent Tweet that said all US troops would be home from Afghanistan by Christmas. Stoltenberg dismissed the idea of an imminent US withdrawal and said all NATO allies would withdraw from Afghanistan together when “the time is right,” reiterating comments he made earlier this month.
“In Afghanistan, NATO has around 12,000 troops in the Alliance’s biggest mission,” Stoltenberg said. “As part of the peace process, we have adjusted our presence. Any further adjustments remain conditions-based.”
When asked how NATO would stay the course in Afghanistan if the US withdrew by Christmas, Stoltenberg said, “All NATO allies have decided and reiterated again and again that our presence in Afghanistan is conditions-based.” The NATO chief said any “further adjustment of the NATO presence in Afghanistan” would be based on assessing the Taliban’s commitment to the US-Taliban peace deal signed in Doha.
“We will make a decision together, coordinate our efforts, based on the principle: in together, adjust together, and when the time is right, when the conditions are met, then we will leave together. But not before,” Stoltenberg said.
The US is currently in the process of drawing down troops in Afghanistan to around 4,500, which is expected to be completed by the November presidential election. The US-Taliban peace deal calls for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan by Spring 2021.
On Tuesday, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said the administration has a plan to bring troop numbers down to around 2,500 in Afghanistan by early next year, numbers that seem to be on track with the Doha agreement. In recent weeks, O’Brien has repeatedly said this is the administration’s plan.
“We have a plan that’s been in place for some time going to 4,500 by this month, and being somewhere around 2,500 to 2,800 in early 2021,” he said. O’Brien said the Pentagon is “executing” the plan, but notably, O’Brien also said the withdrawal is “conditions-based.”
Last week, O’Brien addressed Trump’s declaration that the soldiers will be home by Christmas. “The troops always want to be home on Christmas,” O’Brien said. “The president wants them home by Christmas, and what I’ve said on this and I think the president has said as well is that we’d like the troops out as soon as possible.”