NATO to extend troop presence in Afghanistan
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NATO and Afghan leaders agreed on a framework for a joint military-civilian mission to remain in Afghanistan after NATO's current mission ends in 2016, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced at a summit in Turkey on Wednesday.
"We took a major decision," Stoltenberg told reporters. "We will maintain our presence in Afghanistan even after the end of our current mission."
Speaking after a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in the Turkish city of Antalya that was also attended by Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani, Stoltenberg said the new mission would have "a light footprint but will have military component", although it will be led by a civilian.
NATO has led the Resolute Support mission to train Afghan security forces since its International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission ended in December of last year. Resolute Support is due to wind up at the end of 2016.
Stoltenberg said the new mission would involve a smaller number of troops than the current mission, which comprises some 12,500 military personnel.
"The aim will be to advise Afghan institutions to help them become self-sufficient and help them build on what they have done so far," he said.
‘A dangerous place’
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has already suggested that the United States, which provides most of the foreign troops still in Afghanistan, might want to "re-examine" its self-imposed deadline to withdraw in 2016.
The number of foreign troops in Afghanistan peaked in 2011, with around 130,000 troops then stationed there.
With deadly Taliban attacks on the security forces a regular occurrence, Stoltenberg acknowledged that Afghanistan remained a "dangerous place".
He said NATO and the Afghan government had already agreed on the "guidelines" of the new mission but that the alliance had been tasked with working out more detailed plans by the autumn.
Stoltenberg said the Afghan security forces had made "enormous sacrifices" and that NATO allies and their partners "will stay the course" to help them deal with a lingering insurgency.
The ISAF mission was established by a UN Security Council resolution in 2001 in the months following the September 11 attacks to aid the US mission in Afghanistan.
During a final tour of installations ahead of the NATO withdrawal in December, the head of ISAF’s joint command said that Afghan forces were having trouble sustaining troop numbers in the face of defections and soaring casualty numbers.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)