Brussels, 20 August 2021 (dpa/MIA) — NATO warned the Taliban on Friday it wouldn’t tolerate terrorist threats, without stating exactly what leverage it had over the militant Islamist group should Afghanistan once again serve as a platform for launching attacks.
“We have successfully denied terrorists a safe haven in Afghanistan from which to instigate attacks,” the alliance’s foreign ministers said in a joint statement. “We will not allow any terrorists to threaten us.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg noted the absence of any attacks organized from Afghanistan for almost 20 years. “These gains must be preserved for our own security,” he said following ministers’ talks on the fall of Kabul this week, which put the Taliban back in control of Afghanistan for the first time in 20 years.
For now, the alliance said in the written statement, its priority remained evacuation operations at Kabul’s airport.
But Stoltenberg said the United States is planning to end evacuation operations from the airport by Aug. 31.
Some allies had raised the possibility of extending this “to be able to get more people out,” Stoltenberg said after a videoconference with the alliance’s foreign ministers.
It is thought unlikely that the operation of Kabul’s airport can be maintained without the US, which has around 5,200 soldiers protecting the operation to help those fleeing.
The Taliban rapidly took control in the wake of NATO troops’ withdrawal from the country, in a major blow to the military and democratic gains made during almost two decades of the alliance’s presence in the Central Asian state.
The alliance also promised to maintain support for the Afghan people despite the military withdrawal, but it is unclear how this can be done if the Taliban control state institutions.
NATO had difficult questions to ask itself, Stoltenberg said on Friday.
The head of the Munich Security Conference, Wolfgang Ischinger, blamed former US president Donald Trump for the situation in Afghanistan.
“The fall from grace happened long before [US President] Joe Biden took office,” Ischinger told Deutschlandfunk radio on Friday. “It was the agreement that was concluded with the Taliban under Donald Trump.” He said that once that was signed, the militant Islamists only had to wait for the withdrawal of US troops.
Negotiating with the Taliban from such a position of weakness is not even something you would wish on your enemy, Ischinger said. “There was nothing left to save.”
Certainly, Biden had imagined a different ending – even if he had been well aware that the withdrawal would not proceed in a bureaucratically orderly fashion, he said. “The White House knew that it would possibly be messy and terrible and provide some unpleasant images.”
Ischinger stressed that the responsibility for the current situation should not be placed solely on the Afghan army, whose forces quickly surrendered. Rather, a reduced NATO military presence, even with a few thousand soldiers, might have prevented what he called a “terrible debacle.”
The Taliban were ousted in 2001 at the start of a US-led mission backed by NATO allies that cost trillions of dollars and claimed thousands of lives.