NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg blames Afghan leaders for the “tragedy” and says the alliance is surprised by the speed of the Taliban victory in Afghanistan.
“Ultimately, the Afghan political leadership failed to stand up to the Taliban and to achieve the peaceful solution that Afghans desperately wanted,” he told reporters Tuesday via video link from Brussels.
“This failure of the Afghan leadership led to the tragedy we are witnessing today.”
His remarks came after he chaired a meeting Tuesday of NATO envoys to discuss the security implications of the Taliban’s sweeping victory in Afghanistan.
NATO has been leading international security efforts in Afghanistan since 2003 but wound-up combat operations in 2014 to focus on training the national security forces.
Following the US decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, the allies faced a difficult choice, according to Stoltenberg.
Allies knew that they risked allowing the Taliban to retake the country if they left or faced reprisal attacks and the need to re-engage in combat if they stayed, he said.
The alliance had difficult questions to ask itself, Stoltenberg added. “Despite our considerable investment and sacrifice over two decades, the collapse was swift and sudden,” he said.
Referring to the way the Afghan armed forces withered in the face of the Taliban offensive, Stoltenberg said that “it was a surprise, the speed of the collapse and how quickly that happened.”
‘Working around the clock’
Stoltenberg said the alliance is now working to ensure the safety of NATO’s remaining civilian personnel and Afghan employees in Afghanistan.
Taliban rebels overran the Afghan capital during the weekend after the Western-backed government and resistance from its US and NATO-trained forces collapsed.
Staff from Western embassies have relocated to the city’s airport, which is under the protection of a rearguard of US troops deployed to cover the allied retreat.
“NATO has been working around the clock to maintain operations at the Kabul International Airport,” Stoltenberg said, after a meeting of senior NATO diplomats from alliance members.
“Around 800 NATO civilian personnel have remained to provide key functions under very challenging circumstances, including air traffic control, fuel and communications.”
“Let me also thank the military forces of NATO allies – in particular Turkey, the United States and United Kingdom – for a vital role in securing the airport.”
Stoltenberg said NATO’s senior civilian representative in Afghanistan, Ambassador Stefano Pontecorvo, would remain at the airport “to coordinate and facilitate the evacuation” of NATO staff and Afghan employees.
“The Taliban must respect and facilitate the safe departure of all those who wish to leave the airport and, as well, roads and border crossings must be open,” he said.
“All Afghan men, women and children deserve to live in safety and dignity.”