NATO will increase troop numbers in Afghanistan to help train local forces facing a resurgent Taliban but will not return to a combat role, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday.
The alliance ended its longest-ever military operation in 2014 when it handed over post-9/11 frontline duties to the Afghan military and took on an advice and training mission.
But NATO commanders have asked for more troops following recent Taliban gains, stoking fears that NATO could get sucked back into the conflict just as it faces a host of new threats including Russia, terrorism and cyber attacks.
“I can confirm we will increase our presence in Afghanistan,” Stoltenberg said as he arrived for a defence ministers meeting at the 29-nation alliance’s headquarters in Brussels.
An increase of up to 3,000 troops from the current figure of 13,500 soldiers is under consideration, diplomatic sources said, though Stoltenberg did not give a precise figure.
He said 15 countries had already pledged more contributions and he hoped for more.
“We have to understand this is about training, assistance, advice… It is not to conduct combat operations but to help the Afghans fight,” Stoltenberg said.
The extra troops could help bolster Afghan special forces, improve Kabul’s air force to provide ground support and evacuations, and step up officer training, he added.
About half of the soldiers in what is known as the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan are currently from the US.
“We will look into how we together can… have enough troops to help the government and break the stalemate and so lay the ground for a political solution,” Stoltenberg said.
US President Donald Trump has pushed the Cold War-era alliance to do more to counter terror and for the allies to increase defence spending to ease the burden on Washington.
British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said London would provide just under 100 troops, on top of 500 already in Afghanistan.
Fallon also emphasised that the troops would have no combat role and that the deployment was needed to help Afghanistan combat terrorism which threatened regions across the globe, including Europe.
“We’re in it for the long haul,” Fallon told reporters. “There is every incentive to stay the course.”— AFP