Germany’s defense minister warned against a withdrawal from Afghanistan on Wednesday as the May 1st deadline for foreign troops to leave the country is approaching.
“We can already say that we are not yet in a position to talk about the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan,” German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said ahead of a virtual NATO ministerial meeting.
Kramp-Karrenbauer said that intra-Afghan talks between the Taliban and the US-backed government “have not yet been concluded in such a way that the troops can now leave Afghanistan.”
NATO military leaders, including US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, are set to discuss the US-Taliban peace deal in detail on Thursday, although no official announcements are expected to be made. Both the US and NATO have signaled that troops will likely remain in Afghanistan beyond the withdrawal deadline.
On Wednesday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said, “we will only leave when the time is right,” and insisted that the withdrawal is “conditions-based.” For months now, Stoltenberg has repeatedly made similar statements.
Since the deal was signed last year, the Taliban has refrained from attacking US and other coalition forces. February 8th marked the first full year since the war started in 2001 that no US troops died in combat in Afghanistan. Staying in the country almost guarantees that violence against US and NATO troops will pick back up, something Kramp-Karrenbauer recognized in her comments.
Kramp-Karrenbauer said staying in Afghanistan “means a changed security situation, an increased threat for the international forces, also for our own forces. We have to prepare for this, and we will certainly discuss this.”
US officials told The New York Times that the Pentagon is requesting military options to prepare for a possible “multipronged attack” by the Taliban should foreign troops stay. These options include additional troops or increased air support from US Central Command.