NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday that he believes the Afghan military will be able to stand on its own against the Taliban after US, NATO, and other coalition forces leave Afghanistan.
Before President Biden ordered the withdrawal of troops out of Afghanistan, Stoltenberg was busy looking for reasons to stay. He frequently said the Afghan government would fall without Western troops in the country, but now Stoltenberg is changing his tune.
“I think that the Afghans, they also realize that we have been there now for 20 years and we have invested heavily in blood and treasure in Afghanistan,” Stoltenberg said in an interview with The Associated Press.
“Afghanistan has come a long way, both when it comes to building strong, capable security forces, but also when it comes to social and economic progress. At some stage, it has to be the Afghans that take full responsibility for peace and stability in their own country,” he said.
Both NATO and the US plan to support the Afghan military financially after the withdrawal. They are currently looking at ways to bolster that support, and one option being considered is training Afghan forces in another country.
Last week, Stoltenberg said NATO is “planning to provide military education and training outside Afghanistan.” But on Thursday, the NATO chief didn’t sound as certain about that plan. He said NATO is only “looking into the possibility” of training Afghan forces outside of Afghanistan and that “no final decision has been taken.”
Also on Thursday, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the withdrawal process is “slightly” ahead of schedule, although he offered no timeline on when troops could be out. Earlier this week, The New York Times reported that US and its coalition allies might be out by early to mid-July, well before the September 11th deadline set by President Biden.
The US might leave some troops in the country under the guise of protecting its diplomatic mission. A report from The Sun that cited anonymous sources said the US might leave 600 Marines to guard the embassy.