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NATO: Heiko Maas hopes for US support in Afghanistan

December 1, 2020

NATO is assessing the future of its mission in Afghanistan as the US starts pulling out troops. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas says the security of German soldiers cannot be guaranteed without American backing.

US soldiers boarding a helicopter in Afghanistan
Image: Brian Harris/Planet Pix/ZUMA/picture alliance

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said he hoped for the continued presence of US troops in Afghanistan as a two-day meeting between NATO foreign ministers got under way on Tuesday.

Outgoing US President Donald Trump has accelerated the withdrawal of American soldiers, with plans to cut numbers there from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January. Most of the 11,000 NATO personnel currently in Afghanistan are from Europe and other member countries, but the alliance relies heavily on the US armed forces for air support and logistics.

Read more: Bundeswehr in Afghanistan: What you need to know

NATO has been in Afghanistan for almost 20 years, following the US invasion there triggered by the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

In a televised interview ahead of the two-day video conference of ministers from the 30 NATO countries, Maas said it is important "that the portion of American troops that are necessary for the security of German soldiers remain in Afghanistan," he told public broadcaster ZDF, referring to the evacuation helicopters as an example.

"Otherwise we can no longer guarantee the security of German soldiers." 

At the meeting, diplomats are expected to discuss the Afghanistan mission, as well as a series of proposals to reform the military alliance.

Ideas for NATO revamp

The 138 concrete proposals were put forward by a panel of experts amid growing questions about the relevance of an alliance that French President Emmanuel Macron last year described as "brain dead." 

The raft of ideas include ways to strengthen NATO's political role and to prevent vetoes on joint action, according to Germany's dpa news agency.

Maas welcomed the reforms, saying they had "a lot of substance" and "came at the right time."

"We have to look after our own interests more, we'll have to talk about what Europe can do for itself in its immediate neighborhood," he told ZDF.

Read more: NATO chief warns against hasty troop withdrawal

Withdrawal should hinge on peace talks: Maas

Maas added that German soldiers "cannot and should not stay in Afghanistan forever," but said the withdrawal of international forces should be "coordinated" with peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Under a deal between the Taliban and the US, foreign troops should leave Afghanistan by May 1 if security on the ground permits.

NATO defense ministers are likely to make a final decision about the future of the mission in February.

Read more: Opinion: What role will the EU play in foreign affairs?

Maas also expressed hope that coordination with the new US administration under Joe Biden, who is to be sworn in as president on January 20, would be "better than with the previous one."

NATO foreign ministers were also expected to discuss the military alliance's policy towards China.

nm, jsi/dr (AFP, dpa, AP, Reuters)