NATO chief backs Biden, saying Europe has been consulted on Afghanistan

BRUSSELS – Fending off European complaints that the Biden administration failed to consult its allies on the withdrawal from Afghanistan...


BRUSSELS – Fending off European complaints that the Biden administration failed to consult its allies on the withdrawal from Afghanistan, Jens Stoltenberg, NATO secretary general, said these objections were exaggerated and that NATO had unanimously approved the withdrawal as early as April.

Mr Stoltenberg also said that talking about a new military force separate from the European Union – which some have argued was necessary in the after the collapse of Afghanistan – could only weaken the transatlantic alliance and divide the continent.

“You see different voices in Europe, and some talk about the lack of consultation, but I was present at those meetings, ”Stoltenberg said Thursday evening in a high-profile interview at NATO Headquarters. “Of course, the United States has consulted with its European allies, but at the end of the day each nation must make its own decision regarding the deployment of forces.”

He acknowledged that the consultation was somewhat artificial, because once the United States decided to withdraw, he said, “it was difficult for the other allies to continue without the United States. It was not a realistic option.

Mr. Stoltenberg is described by those familiar with his thinking as unhappy with President Biden’s decision to leave Afghanistan by 9/11 without conditions. He called for “a conditional withdrawal” which would have forced the Taliban to keep their promise to seek a negotiated political solution.

In the interview, Mr Stoltenberg declined to confirm this version of his views, but argued that once NATO decided to support the Biden plan in April – at a meeting without objections from other allies – there was no point in reviewing the decision.

NATO allies pushed for a political process, Stoltenberg said, even after former President Donald J. Trump signed a bilateral deal with the Taliban in February 2020 that excluded the Afghan government and fixed the May 1 to the withdrawal of American troops. “The problem was that the Taliban did not want to negotiate if the government in Kabul was part of these negotiations,” he said.

Asked about the Taliban’s failure to keep their promises, Stoltenberg, just a year into his second term, sighed.

“We all knew it was a difficult decision and we were faced with a difficult dilemma,” he said, “threatening to leave and risk the Taliban return, or to stay, but with more fights and more casualties “. Everyone understood the risks, he said, if not the speed of the collapse of the Afghan government.

When asked if he had pushed Biden to insist on a conditional withdrawal at their June 7 meeting, a week before Mr. Biden came to Brussels for his first NATO summit, Mr. Stoltenberg shrugged. “The decision was made in April and all the allies agreed,” he said, “so I felt that once the decision was made, the main focus was how to make sure we were able to implement it in the best possible way. “

Mr Biden was pilloried in the United States for his decision to step down last month, against the advice of senior generals, and for the haste, chaotic evacuation.

But Mr Stoltenberg, defending Mr Biden, blamed the rapid collapse of Afghanistan not on Washington or NATO, but on the Afghan government. “What we saw was a collapse of political and military leadership, and it triggered the collapse of the entire defense against the Taliban.” Mr. Stoltenberg It was asked whether the departures of the United States and NATO had had a psychological and logistical impact that favored the collapse of Afghanistan. “There will of course be a lot of analysis and academics looking into this,” he said. “My main objective is how we can preserve the gains made in the fight against terrorism and how to get people out of Afghanistan. “

Towards the end of his second term, Mr. Stoltenberg is credited with trying to hold NATO together in the face of Mr. Trump’s public skepticism about its worth and America’s role in it. This significated defend Mr Trump’s demands for more Allied spending which sometimes brushed against the deferens.

But given the importance of the United States in an alliance where 80% of military spending comes from countries outside the European Union, Mr Stoltenberg has been openly concerned and supportive of Mr Biden as well, not just for Afghanistan. but also on China, Washington’s main diplomatic concern.

He said he was personally “heartbroken to see the Taliban come back”, but he insisted that for European nations the political difficulty of staying in Afghanistan had been underestimated.

“For the European allies to go to their parliaments and ask for more money and more soldiers to be sent to danger in Afghanistan as part of a mission launched to protect the United States” would have been very difficult once Washington had decided to leave, he said. “It’s about more than European capabilities, it’s about deep politics, about what it is reasonable to expect from the allies who have gone to support the United States.”

But a former French ambassador to NATO, Philippe Errera, suggested last week at a conference in Estonia that one of the lessons for NATO is to have more frank discussions with the United States, even if they are difficult.

Among NATO allies, said Errera, now Director General of the French Foreign Ministry, there has been a “shared responsibility for not using NATO for what it should be – a place where we can openly ask the tough questions on the table. “Afghanistan may have been a special case, given 9/11, he said, but added: “We can’t just sweep the elephant under the rug. Otherwise, there comes a time when you cannot walk into the room.

In the aftermath of the collapse of Kabul, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell Fontelles called for the creation of a a new rapid reaction force about 5,000 troops or more to be able to run operations like the Kabul airport without the Americans. Other Europeans have called for the revival of plans formed in the early 2000s to create volunteer country battle groups, and some have even resurfaced an older unrealized goal of having 50,000 to 60,000 troops capable of fighting. deploy within 60 days for one year.

This is a recurring argument for Mr Stoltenberg and which he considers deeply damaging to transatlantic security. While still demanding more military spending from European allies, he declared that “any attempt to weaken the ties between Europe and North America will not only weaken NATO, but will divide Europe itself” , a long-standing Moscow target.

“We have been pushing for more European allies to do more on defense, but not as an alternative but within the framework of NATO,” he said. “Any attempt to establish parallel structures, to duplicate the command structure, will weaken our joint ability to work together because with limited resources we have to avoid duplication.”

Asked about the dangers of mixing the war on terror with nation-building, Mr Stoltenberg hesitated. NATO’s job was to fight terrorism, he said, and governments and aid agencies made their own nation-building choices. NATO tried to keep them safe, but focused on its own mission.

Mr Stoltenberg nevertheless suggested that governments should think hard before using force to solve problems.

Failures of Western intervention should remind everyone, he said, “how serious it is to use military force and go to another country.” If history has a lesson, he said, “it is that it is easier to launch a military operation than to end it”.

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Newsrust - US Top News: NATO chief backs Biden, saying Europe has been consulted on Afghanistan
NATO chief backs Biden, saying Europe has been consulted on Afghanistan
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