“The price for leaving too soon or in an uncoordinated way could be very high. Afghanistan risks becoming once again a platform for international terrorists to plan and organise attacks on our homelands. And ISIS could rebuild in Afghanistan the terror caliphate it lost in Syria and Iraq,” Stoltenberg said in a statement to CNN.
In his statement, Stoltenberg also noted that the NATO presence in Afghanistan was in support of the United States following the 9/11 attacks on the US.
“NATO went into Afghanistan after an attack on the United States to ensure that it would never again be a safe haven for international terrorists,” he said. “Hundreds of thousands of troops from Europe and beyond have stood shoulder to shoulder with American troops in Afghanistan, and over one thousand of them have paid the ultimate price.”
He also called for all NATO allies to honor their commitment and to withdraw when the time is right. “We went into Afghanistan together. And when the time is right, we should leave together in a coordinated and orderly way. I count on all NATO allies to live up to this commitment, for our own security,” he said.
The Pentagon has issued a notice to commanders known as a “warning order” to begin planning to drawdown the number of troops in Afghanistan to 2,500 troops and 2,500 in Iraq by January 15, the officials said. Currently, there are approximately 4,500 US troops in Afghanistan and 3,000 troops in Iraq.
But the assessment shared by Esper from the chain of command — Esper, US Central Command leader Marine Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie and commander of NATO’s mission in Afghanistan Gen. Austin Miller — stated that the necessary conditions had not been met. Others agreed, sources tell CNN, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley.
CNN’s Jake Tapper and Zachary Cohen contributed to this report.