NATO extends mission in Afghanistan | News | DW | 09.07.2016
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NATO extends mission in Afghanistan

The military alliance has agreed to maintain troop levels and reiterated its funding pledge for Afghan security forces to 2020. The commitment will prolong what already has been by far NATO's longest military mission.

NATO allies have promised that they will stump up around $1 billion (905 million euros) a year over the next three years to help fund the Afghan military, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Saturday.

That would guarantee funding through 2020, but the NATO chief could not say when its longest military engagement might end. There are about 12,000 NATO troops in the country.

"There's no reason to speculate exactly on how long it will continue. What we have seen is we are committed and we are ready to stay," Stoltenberg said from the summit in the Polish capital, Warsaw.

Afghan security forces, who were to take full control of their country's security in 2015, have struggled to contain a resurgent Taliban, as well as attacks from militants allied to al Qaeda and the self-styled "Islamic State."

"Afghanistan still faces serious instability and violence," Stoltenberg said. "So our message is clear: Afghanistan does not stand alone and we are committed for the long haul."

NATO is also demanding reforms of the Afghan security forces, which are grappling with deeply entrenched corruption and human rights abuses.

Competition with Russia

NATO leaders have also formalized an agreement to create four battalions of about 1,000 soldiers each to be deployed along the alliance's eastern flank.

Germany will lead a multinational battalion in Lithuania, with similar battalions to be led by the United States in Poland, Britain in Estonia, and Canada in Latvia.

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said his nation will provide at least 150 soldiers to a new multinational NATO battalion based in Lithuania. But he also stressed the need "keep an open dialogue with Russia, because we need to talk about Syria and Iraq."

The scheme is designed to deploy forces on a rotational basis for the first time to a swath of eastern Europe that was part of the Soviet bloc during the Cold War, angering Russia.

Ex-Soviet leader doesn't approve

Mikhail Gorbachev, who as leader of the Soviet Union presided over its collapse, criticized NATO for escalating tensions with Russia.

"NATO has begun preparations for escalating from the Cold War into a hot one," the 85-year-old is quoted as saying by Russia's Interfax news agency. He said "all the rhetoric in Warsaw just yells of a desire almost to declare war on Russia. They only talk about defense, but actually are preparing for offensive operations."

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite - known in Lithuania as the "Iron Lady" for her hard line on Moscow - said it was important for NATO to balance a strong defense posture with open diplomacy with nuclear-armed Russia.

"We are not closing ourselves by an iron wall, and it is also saying that we are united and strong and because of that we can be open, not afraid and talk with you," she said.

jar/tj (AFP, Reuters)

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