This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
U.S. acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has said that any potential U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan would be “coordinated” with other NATO members.
Speaking to reporters after a meeting on February 14 in Brussels with NATO defense ministers, Shanahan said “there will be no unilateral troop reduction” from Afghanistan.
His remarks came amid uncertainty about the timing and extent of a potential U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan that Taliban negotiators have demanded as a precondition to peace talks with the Afghan government.
“We came out of here much stronger and coordinated,” Shanahan told reporters in Brussels about his talks with other NATO defense ministers.
The ministers on February 14 were discussing the future of NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan as Washington engages in efforts to negotiate a peace deal between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
U.S. officials have said President Donald Trump wants to withdraw about half of the 14,000 U.S. troops now in Afghanistan.
Shanahan said the ministers in Brussels discussed “how do we double down on support for Afghan national defense and security forces to put even more pressure on the Taliban?”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said earlier that the alliance’s mission in Afghanistan “remains a top priority.”
“We strongly support the efforts to reach a political, peaceful settlement,” Stoltenberg said.
The NATO chief also said “no decision has been taken about any withdrawal,” adding that NATO allies would decide the future of the mission “together, based on conditions determined with the Afghans.”
Before the Brussels talks began, U.S. special peace envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad briefed NATO ambassadors about developments that have occurred during several rounds of direct talks he has had in recent months with representatives of the Taliban’s political office in Qatar.
The ministers on February 14 also discussed NATO’s missions and operations in Kosovo and Iraq.
On Kosovo, Stoltenberg has said the ministers would “review the level of our support for the Kosovo Security Force after the change of its mandate.”
Kosovar lawmakers in December voted to convert the 2,500-member Kosovo Security Force into a national army with some 5,000 personnel and more substantial weaponry.
But that move is opposed by Kosovo’s ethnic Serbian minority, by Serbia’s government in Belgrade, and by Russia.