ANTALYA, Turkey – NATO will keep some troops in Afghanistan even after its current training mission ends around the end of next year, the alliance said on Wednesday, in a signal of support for Afghan security forces struggling to repel a Taliban offensive.
Afghan government forces, now largely without foreign military support, have suffered heavy casualties this year battling the Taliban who have expanded their attacks to the north from their traditional southern and eastern strongholds.
“Today we agreed that we will maintain a presence in Afghanistan even after the end of our current mission,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference during a meeting of alliance foreign ministers in Turkey.
Concern over the Afghan forces’ strength was renewed by their battle to oust hundreds of militants — helped by foreigners — from the outskirts of the northern provincial capital of Kunduz for the past two weeks.
The new NATO mission, expected to be smaller than the current 12,000-strong training operation, will be civilian-led and include both soldiers and civilians, Stoltenberg said.
It will “advise and instruct” Afghan security bodies, he said.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has suggested that the United States, which provides most of the foreign troops still in Afghanistan, might want to “re-examine” its deadline to withdraw by the end of 2016.
At the 2011 peak, there were around 130,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan. NATO pulled out most of its combat troops from Afghanistan last year, leaving around 12,000 foreign troops to train local soldiers and police.
The training mission is expected to end at the end of 2016 and, although NATO has said it would retain a partnership with Afghanistan after that, it has so far given few details of what would come next.
No decisions had been taken yet on the number of people that would remain in Afghanistan but Stoltenberg said it was expected to be smaller than the current operation and would have a “light footprint”.
NATO’s civilian and military authorities had been asked to develop a plan for a continued NATO presence by the autumn, he said. (Reuters)