NATO warns Taliban of consequences if they fail to honour commitments



NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg March 4 in Zagreb, Croatia, arrives for a meeting of European Union (EU) defence ministers. [Damir Sencar/AFP]

ZAGREB, Croatia -- Western forces will leave Afghanistan only if the Taliban make good on their commitment to reduce bloodshed, the leader of NATO warned Wednesday (March 4) as attacks surge.

The militants have ramped up violence against Afghan forces since signing a deal with the United States last weekend, casting doubt over peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban due to begin on March 10.

A "long and hard" road to peace lies ahead, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told AFP, warning the Taliban that if they renege on the agreement, foreign forces will not leave.

"It is a very difficult situation, and the Taliban must honour their commitment. We need to see reduction in violence," Stoltenberg told AFP in an interview in Zagreb, Croatia, where he attended a meeting of European Union (EU) defence ministers.


Taliban militants and villagers attend a gathering as they celebrate the peace deal in Alingar District of Laghman Province on March 2. [Noorullah Shirzada/AFP]

"We can only deliver our side of the deal if the Taliban deliver their side of the deal."

The deal, signed in Doha on February 29, is seen as a way to end the 18-year-long war in Afghanistan.

But overnight, Taliban militants killed at least 20 Afghan soldiers and policemen in a string of attacks in the latest breach of the partial truce.

Under the terms of the deal, US and other foreign forces will quit Afghanistan within 14 months, subject to Taliban security guarantees and a pledge by the insurgents to hold talks with the government of President Ashraf Ghani.

'No alternative'

NATO, which has a 16,000-strong training and support mission in Afghanistan, has long insisted it would leave only when conditions were right -- in particular vowing that terrorists could not use the country as a springboard for attacks abroad.

"The agreement that was signed on Saturday was an important first step, but it's only a first step," said Stoltenberg, who as prime minister of Norway sent troops to Afghanistan following the US-led invasion that overthrew the Taliban in 2001.

"The road towards peace will be long and hard, and we have to be prepared for disappointments," he said.

"At the same time there is no alternative," he added. "The only way to have a peaceful solution is a negotiated agreement and to talk to Taliban."

Barely three days after signing the partial truce deal, the Taliban announced they were resuming their offensive against Afghan government forces.

In a sign of their intent, the militants mounted 30 attacks in 15 of the country's 34 provinces in the space of 24 hours, according to the Interior Ministry.

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It is understood from the NATO Secretary General's words that war will not end soon in this country, and people should be prepared for the war for one more decade. Life has become so bitter for people in this country. What should the poor people of Afghanistan do? Majority of the people are wandering every day to earn bread, and every day these poor people become victims. Whether they are army, police or the Taliban, they are all poor people. Not a single rich man, a politician or Taliban leaders who live a luxurious life in Doha, is killed in this country. War has always taken victims from these poor and oppressed people. May God annihilate NATO, America, and Afghan and Taliban leaders. Amen.