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NATO Is Expected to Confirm Its Troop Withdrawal From Afghanistan

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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 American secretary of state, Antony J. Blinken, said on 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.

“We have achieved the goals we set out to achieve,” Mr. Blinken said. “Now it’s time to bring our forces home.”

In brief remarks, Mr. Blinken limited those goals narrowly to antiterrorism, 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,” Mr. 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, Mr. 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 Biden to decide on a withdrawal deadline and have had consultations with U.S. officials. It was important now, Ms. Kramp-Karrenbauer said, “for us in NATO to synchronize our planning with the U.S. planning.”

The Atlantic alliance’s troops rely on the Americans for force protection, logistics and intelligence and would be highly vulnerable if they remained after the United States left.

The NATO ministers will also address a buildup of Russian troops at the border with Ukraine, the alliance’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, said on Wednesday, appearing alongside Mr. Blinken. “Russia must end this military buildup, stop provocations and de-escalate,” Mr. Stoltenberg said.

NATO will discuss how to demonstrate further support for Ukraine and also plans for the next meeting of the alliance sometime this year, Mr. Stoltenberg added.

The American secretary of defense, Lloyd J. Austin III, is scheduled to join Mr. Blinken at the NATO meeting after a visit to Israel and Germany.

After the gathering, Mr. Blinken will meet with the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany, the other members of “the Quad,” to discuss Afghanistan, Ukraine and the continuing talks in Vienna about how to restore the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran.

Those talks are expected to resume this week. They have been complicated by the blackout at the Natanz nuclear enrichment plant in Iran, which was reportedly the result of an attack by Israel, and by the responses from Tehran, which have included an attack on an Israeli ship and a vow to begin enhancing uranium enrichment from 20 percent to 60 percent, levels banned under the accord and closer to weapons-grade.

The Iranian moves were criticized in a joint statement from the British, French and German foreign ministers on Wednesday.

“This is a serious development since the production of highly enriched uranium constitutes an important step in the production of a nuclear weapon,” the statement said.

The statement called Iran’s moves “particularly regrettable” when the Vienna meetings had made progress. “Iran’s dangerous recent communication is contrary to the constructive spirit and good faith of these discussions,” it noted.

Iran maintains that its nuclear program is purely civilian.

The German Foreign Ministry said that the main topic of the separate meeting of foreign ministers from the Quad would be Afghanistan. Although France pulled its troops out of Afghanistan years ago, the country remains deeply involved in the Iran talks. The Vienna negotiations are trying to bring both the United States and Iran back into compliance with the accord, from which former President Donald J. Trump withdrew in May 2018. In response, Iran began to breach enrichment levels, calling its actions “remedial.”


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