BRUSSELS — Now that the United States has decided to pull its troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, NATO’s foreign and defense ministers are meeting to discuss “a safe, deliberate and coordinated withdrawal of our forces from Afghanistan,” the U.S. Secretary of State, Antony J. Blinken, said Wednesday at the alliance’s headquarters.
Ministers from NATO member countries, many of them attending the Wednesday meeting virtually, are expected to formally back the American withdrawal date. The alliance’s mantra has always been “in together and out together,” so the ministers are expected to confirm that their troops will leave alongside the Americans, though some smaller contingents may leave before.
At the moment, of the 9,600 NATO troops officially in Afghanistan, about 2,500 of them are American, though that number can be as many as 1,000 higher. The second-largest contingent is from Germany, with some 1,300 troops.
In brief remarks, Blinken limited those goals narrowly to anti-terrorism, not mentioning the larger NATO efforts to liberate women, help girls to attend school and shift agriculture away from growing heroin poppies.
After the attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, “Together we went into Afghanistan to deal with those who attacked us and to make sure that Afghanistan would not again become a haven for terrorists who might attack any of us,” Blinken said. Those goals have been achieved, he asserted.
Some current and former American officials agree that Afghanistan is not expected to emerge as a terrorist threat to the United States in the short term, but they say that the question is more difficult to assess in the long run.
Even as the Atlantic alliance withdraws its troops, Blinken said, “our commitment to Afghanistan and its future will remain.”
The German defense minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, referring to NATO, told the German television station ARD on Wednesday: “We always said, ‘We’ll go in together, we’ll leave together.’ I am for an orderly withdrawal and that is why I assume that we will agree to that today.”
NATO allies have been waiting for President Joe Biden to decide on a withdrawal deadline and have had consultations with U.S. officials. It was important now, Kramp-Karrenbauer said, “for us in NATO to synchronize our planning with the U.S. planning.”