NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, in an exclusive interview with Ariana News in Brussels, elaborated his views on NATO mission and the alliance troop levels in Afghanistan as well as strengthening the capabilities of Afghan national army and security forces.
The following is the full text of Ariana News’ exclusive interview with Stoltenberg:
What is the outcome of NATO leaders meeting, especially in Afghanistan?
We agreed on an action plan on fighting terrorism and warm element of that plan is that we will sustain our military mission in Afghanistan. As we know it is not a combat mission anymore but is a train, assist and advise mission and all allies pledged to continue to support the mission and some allies also announced that they are ready to provide more forces. This about training the Afghan national security forces to stabilize Afghanistan and to fight Taliban and terrorism. NATO provides support both with our trainers but also with funding and economic support the Afghan national army and security forces.
About the increase of troops, is there any exact number that how many troops will be deployed to Afghanistan?
We are not in the process of deciding the exact number of troops. Currently, is around 13,000 troops,… so likely within not so many weeks, we have decisions on the exact troop levels. Our military commanders have asked for an increase of a few thousand and that is what we are now looking into, but what is clear, is that we will continue to be in Afghanistan and we are also supporting the roadmap of President Ghani and so we have a more multi-air approach to our presence in Afghanistan, and we have also clearly committed to continue over several years to fund Afghan national army and security forces.
NATO to join Ant-IS Coalition, and as you know IS or Daesh is active in Afghanistan as well, What will be the role of NATO in combat against Daesh in Afghanistan?
What NATO does is that we are training, enabling and supporting the Afghan forces to fight terrorist groups in Afghanistan, so have seen that the Afghan forces are very professional, dedicated and have been able to attack the terrorist groups including ISIS several times and therefore, ISIS has been forced to reduce their presence in Afghanistan, they are controlling less and less or they are present in very small parts of Afghanistan but it is still something we have to take very seriously. That is part of why NATO continue to support the Afghan armed forces and of course the United States is a NATO ally but outside the NATO mission, the United States also conduct counter-terrorism operations in cooperation with the Afghan army.
Afghan air force is still a big shortage, as you know that they are weak and they are not well equipped. Is there any plan for recruiting the Afghan air forces?
Yes, absolutely, one of the reasons why we have decided to sustain our mission and one of the issue stood and that is addressed in what we called it the periodic mission review (the review of our mission), is the importance of strengthening the Afghan air forces and we have some good numbers, we have seen an increase number of air planes, helicopters, and pilots. I met some female pilots Afghan trained in the air force when I visited Afghanistan lost time and NATO will focus on what we can do to further strengthen the Afghan air forces which is a key capacity or capability in the fight against the Taliban and the terrorist groups in Afghanistan. We are also focusing on strengthening further the special operational forces, they have proven extremely valuable and important in Afghanistan, so we are going to help to train and educate more special operational forces that is actually started already and we are also focusing on the leadership, strengthening the military academies to improve command, control and leadership in the Afghan army which includes the fight against terrorism.
There are some reports about corruption, especially in the ANDSF system of Afghanistan, for example ghost police and ghost army. Are you satisfied from the reforms which are underway inside ANDSF in Afghanistan?
It is extremely important to fight corruption and therefore, welcome the very strong commitment by the National Unity Government, by President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah to fight corruption and I welcome also the establishment of anti corruption center which will be an important tool to address the big problem of corruption which we have to fight and address. I also welcome for instance the introduction of biometric identification which will help us really to address this problem of ghost soldiers. Corruption is really really negative for the capacity of Afghan army and of course in long-run undermines the willingness of the international community to provide financial support.
Last Question is about the local governors in the north of Afghanistan, who are claiming that Russia is supporting the Taliban, is there any evidence with NATO or what is NATO position here?
I have seen media reports of that kind of support but I haven’t seen any evidence. The important thing now is to focus on the peace process on an Afghan-led and Afghan -owned peace process, and I welcome the initiative by President Ghani to host a meeting in the beginning of June which will be an important contribution to an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process.
Exiled Afghan politicians form council, call for talks with IEA
A number of exiled Afghan politicians recently gathered in Turkey’s capital Ankara where they formed a council and called on the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) to engage in talks with them.
The politicians met at the residence of former vice-president Abdul Rashid Dostum and included Abdu Rab-ur-Rasool Sayyaf, Atta Mohammad Noor, Mohammad Mohaqiq, Karim Khalili, Ahmad Wali Masoud, Mohammad Alam Ezidyar and Mir Rahman Rahmani.
Ehsan Nero, a spokesman for Dostum, said that the meeting was held to exchange views on how “we could change the challenging situation in Afghanistan.”
While urging talks with IEA, the politicians issued a statement and declared support for the conflict that is underway in some provinces in the country.
“Such a large meeting was held in Turkey with the Turkish police providing security. They will meet again in Austria two weeks later and then in Geneva. There is certainly something fishy going on,” said Ahmad Saeedi, a political analyst.
Habibullah Janibdar, another political analyst, however, said that such meetings would not help Afghanistan as Afghans have already tested these politicians.
The IEA meanwhile has already formed a commission to encourage Afghans in exile to return home.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the IEA, said that the “door for talks is already open.”
“We have no problems with any Afghan. We would welcome anyone returning. They would be protected. They would be respected. Their wealth would be safe,” Mujahid said.
“But Allah forbid, if they intend to start a war, then obviously Afghans won’t allow it,” Mujahid warned.
IEA claims it supports local media but urges them to stick to Islamic values
The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) said Thursday it will support and cooperate with media outlets and journalists, both local and foreign, but urged them to observe Islamic principles and keep the interests of the country in mind.
Zabihullah Mujahid, the IEA’s spokesman said: “Today, the Media Violations Commission resumed its operations and the Information Access Commission will start its activities as soon as possible in the near future.”
He said the IEA is committed to supporting media outlets in the country in accordance with Sharia Law.
However, Mujahid urged media organizations to stick to Islamic values and principles in terms of broadcasting and publishing.
Mujahid said: “The government will continue to support media outlets financially and we will work to reduce the media’s problems to zero. We call on media officials to carry on their operations based on the principles of Islam.”
According to the Ministry of Information and Culture, currently, about 198 media outlets operate in the country, however, nearly 170 media organizations have closed down, largely due to financial constraints, since the collapse of the former government.
Many of these media organizations have lost staff who left Afghanistan after the US troops withdrawal while other, that were reliant on foreign donor money, lost all income.
Media support organizations have said that an estimated 6,000 media workers have left the country since the IEA take over.
US looking to expand ties with Pakistan: Blinken
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday told Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari that US President Joe Biden’s administration was looking forward to working with the new government in Pakistan and discussed “expanding partnership” between the two countries.
The meeting took place in New York on the sidelines of the food security meeting that the US is hosting in collaboration with the UN.
The meeting between Bilawal and Blinken came against the backdrop of strained ties between Pakistan and the US. The relationship during the PTI government between the two countries remained tense and there had been further dip in ties when former premier Imran Khan directly held the US responsible for his ouster, Pakistan’s Tribune reported.
Blinken said the US was keen to expand partnership with Pakistan on a range of issues covering economic as well as regional security issues.
According to a State Department statement, Blinken met with Bilawal to affirm the shared desire for a strong and prosperous bilateral relationship.
“The Secretary and the Foreign Minister discussed expanding partnership in climate, investment, trade, and health as well as people-to-people ties,” the statement read.
It further said the two foreign ministers underscored the importance of US-Pakistan cooperation on regional peace, counterterrorism, Afghan stability, support for Ukraine, and democratic principles.
The foreign minister added that as the current chair of the G77 and China, Pakistan welcomed the support of the UN secretary general to the objectives pursued by the developing countries at the global organisation.
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