NATO chief says Afghan mission future depends on peace talks

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. (File/Reuters)
Updated 14 March 2019
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NATO chief says Afghan mission future depends on peace talks

  • US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said the sides reached “draft agreements”
  • It has been the longest direct talks ever held between the US and the Taliban

BRUSSELS: The future of NATO’s 15-year-long military operation in Afghanistan will depend on the outcome of peace talks involving Taliban insurgents, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday, after a US envoy reported important progress from the latest round of negotiations.
The longest direct talks ever held between the United States and the Taliban concluded this week. US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said the sides reached “draft agreements” covering the withdrawal of US troops and guarantees that Afghanistan would not become a haven for terrorists once a settlement is found.
The United States has around 14,000 troops in Afghanistan. Around half of them carry out counter-terror operations while others lead NATO’s military training and mentoring mission.
US President Donald Trump has said that about 7,000 US troops would leave, but it’s unclear which ones would stay. Most of NATO’s European allies depend on US air and logistical support to carry out their mission.
“The future force level of NATO troops is very much dependent of course on the outcome of those talks,” Stoltenberg told reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels, but he underlined that the negotiations are far from over.
“It’s too early to pre-empt the outcome of the talks,” Stoltenberg said. “There’s still much to be done before a peace deal is in place.”
NATO took charge of the international military effort in Afghanistan in 2003 in its most ambitious operation ever. It launched a military training effort in 2015 once it had phased out overt combat operations, but after a reduction in force strength, troop numbers have gradually climbed again to more than 16,000 personnel.
Despite the presence of US and NATO troops, the conflict remains at a stalemate.
The progress in peace talks appears to offer the United States and its allies a way to end their presence after one of the most expensive wars in US history, costing between 800 billion and one trillion dollars, according to various estimates.
The website icasualties says the conflict has also cost the lives of around 3,400 troops — some 2,300 of them from the US — since 2003.
NATO military officers decline to say whether they have begun planning for a withdrawal.
Whatever the outcome of the peace talks, Stoltenberg said: “We went in together, and we will make future decisions on our posture together.”


Comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy wins Ukraine elections after incumbent president Petro Poroshenko concedes defeat

Updated 53 min 21 sec ago
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Comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy wins Ukraine elections after incumbent president Petro Poroshenko concedes defeat

  • Petro Poroshenko tried to rally Ukrainians around the flag and national identity
  • Zelenskiy is a comedian with no political experience and few detailed policies

KIEV: Incumbent Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Sunday conceded he had been soundly defeated in a run-off vote by comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy and would be leaving office next month, but said he did not plan to quit politics altogether.

Ukraine entered uncharted political waters on Sunday after an exit poll showed Zelenskiy, a comedian with no political experience and few detailed policies, had easily won enough votes to become the next president of a country at war.

The apparent landslide victory of Volodymyr Zelenskiy, 41, is a bitter blow for incumbent Petro Poroshenko who tried to rally Ukrainians around the flag by casting himself as a bulwark against Russian aggression and a champion of Ukrainian identity.

Poroshenko said the results were "clear" and a reason to "call my opponent and congratulate him", after exit polls showed the performer taking 73 percent of the vote.

"I will leave office but I want to firmly stress -- I will not quit politics," he added.

Zelensky vowed to "reboot" peace talks with separatists that also involve Russia and the West.

"In any case we will act within the Normandy framework, we will continue with the Minsk talks, we will reboot them," Zelensky told a news conference.

"I think we will have personnel changes there," he added.