NATO has decided to keep a presence in Afghanistan beyond the end of the current Resolute Support mission, said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at a meeting of foreign ministers in Antalya, Turkey, on Wednesday. While details of the extended presence have not yet been decided, the announcement means it is likely that foreign troops will remain in the country for years to come.
"Our future presence will be led by civilians. It will have a light footprint. But it will have a military component," Stoltenberg said at the end of the meeting with foreign ministers of the NATO and partner nations contributing to Resolute Support, which includes 42 countries and a total of 13,199 soldiers.
The current mission, which was approved by the Afghan parliament in November 2014 and launched in January 2015, was put in place because of Western concerns that Afghanistan would, after the withdrawal of the bulk of American troops at the end of last year, face the same fate as Iraq, where the Islamic State Group gained a solid foothold after U.S. troops left the country in 2011 after eight years of war. The troops now in Afghanistan for Resolute Support are there in an observer and training capacity, assisting the Afghan military and police to better deal with attacks from terrorists.
With the mission due to reduce its troops numbers at the end of this year and again at the end of 2016, the Afghanistan police and military will take on a bigger responsibility for security inside the country.
However, that new task will not be easy. In 2014, the Afghan Police saw a near 100 percent increase in the amount of fatalities, jumping from around 1,800 in 2013 to 3,200 a year later, according to Afghan government officials. According to the U.S. Defense Department, military deaths are also rising, with 950 soldiers killed just from March to September 2014 compared with 1,400 for the entire year up to March.
To stop the rise in Afghan casulaties, Stoltenberg said that the aim of the extended mission will be to “advise and instruct Afghan security institutions” and to help them become “self-sufficient, and to build on what we have achieved so far.”
Yet, at a press conference after the meeting, Stoltenberg touted Resolute Support as a success: “We have completed the transition to Afghan security responsibility across the country. And we have made a smooth transition from our combat operation to our current mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan national forces.”
A NATO official said via email that details of the new civilian-led mission will be decided in the coming autumn.