BRUSSELS – NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg urged the Taliban on Wednesday to show “real will” to reduce violence in Afghanistan.
Speaking ahead of a meeting of defense ministers in Brussels, he said it was “extremely important to convey a clear message to Taliban that they have to show and demonstrate a real will and ability to reduce violence and to engage in credible peace talks.”
During the meeting, ministers will address issues such as the role of NATO in Afghanistan and what else can be done in the fight against international terrorism in the Middle East.
Stoltenberg added that NATO would “welcome any steps that can lead to reduction in violence” in Afghanistan.
The Taliban has proposed a reduction of violence in the country, a breakthrough towards an agreement in peace negotiations with the United States which have stalled for several months, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Tuesday.
The proposal, which has been one of the main demands of US negotiators and the government in Kabul, was revealed by the Afghan leader after a telephone conversation with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Stoltenberg said NATO remained involved in Afghanistan through its role advising, supporting, training security forces and funding.
“Because when we train and support the Afghan forces with training, but also with funding, we are helping the Afghans to send a very clear message to Taliban that they will never win on the battlefield,” he added.
In addition to the role the US has assumed in the Taliban negotiations, Stoltenberg also welcomed Germany and Norway’s offers to facilitate intra-Afghan talks.
Afghanistan has been ravaged by war since the 2001 invasion of a US-led coalition that brought down the Taliban regime.
Large territories of the country continue to be under Taliban control.
When asked about NATO’s military training mission in Iraq, whose activities have been suspended in the face of increased tensions in the region, the Norwegian politician replied the troops “are in Iraq on an invitation by the Iraqi government.”
“And we will only stay in Iraq as long as we are welcomed by the Iraqi government,” he added.
He said he hoped that in the two-day meeting which began Wednesday, ministers would “recommit to our training mission in Iraq, but also agree to step up and be ready to do more, provide more support to Iraq” in line with a US request that NATO amplifies its role in the area.
“It is extremely important that ISIS never return,” Stoltenberg added.
Violence flared up on the streets of Iraq in January after a US airstrike killed Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force, and Abu Mahdi al-Mohandes, the deputy head of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces.