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NATO meets for post-Trump talks as Afghanistan pullout deadline looms

The file photo shows US Marines arranging equipment as troops arrive in Kandahar after withdrawal from the Camp Bastion-Leatherneck complex in Helmand province, Afghanistan, October 26, 2014. (Via AFP)

NATO defense ministers have met to discuss the possibility of staying in Afghanistan beyond the May withdrawal deadline agreed between the Taliban militant group and the United States under the administration of former US President Donald Trump.

Key on the agenda at the two-day virtual conference in Brussels is the future of the US-led coalition forces in the war-torn country.

Speculation is that US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin will not make any firm announcement when the matter is discussed on Thursday.

The administration of President Joe Biden is reviewing whether to stick to a looming May 1 deadline to withdraw or risk a bloody backlash from the Taliban.

Other NATO members have also signaled a desire within the alliance for staying in Afghanistan beyond the deadline. They are willing to remain in Afghanistan, if Washington stays too.

German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said on Wednesday that peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government “have not yet been concluded in such a way that the troops can now leave Afghanistan.”

“We can already say that we are not yet in a position to talk about the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan,” the German minister said as she arrived for the meeting.

“This also means a changed security situation, an increased threat for the international forces, also for our own forces. We have to prepare for this, and we will certainly discuss this.”

A recent study mandated by the US Congress has called for a delay in the pullout, warning it would effectively hand the Taliban a victory.

Trump cut US troop numbers during his final days in office to 2,500, the lowest figure since the start of the war in 2001.

The former White House tenant reached an agreement with the Taliban in Doha in February 2020, under which the US and its NATO allies are expected to withdraw all troops in 14 months in exchange for the Taliban upholding their promises, including halting attacks on the coalition forces.

President Biden, however, has said his administration would not commit to a full withdrawal by May.

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