Stoltenberg: “Afghanistan’s leaders failed”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg comments on military and diplomatic crisis

Jens Stoltenberg

Photo: Torstein Bøe / POOL / NTB
NATO General Jens Stoltenberg met with the Norwegian press after a NATO summit in Brussels on Aug. 16 to comment on the current crisis  in Afghanistan.

Fredrik Ljone Holst & Kenneth Kandolf Haug

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the collapse in Afghanistan happened faster than anyone could have predicted. His press conference in Brussels was an emotional affair.

“The political leadership was unable to stand firm against the Taliban and ensure the peaceful solution the Afghan people wanted. This failure in leadership led to the tragedy we are now witnessing,” Stoltenberg said at the press conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels on August 17.

“At the same time, there is also a need for an honest assessment of NATO’s commitment. Despite significant investments and sacrifices, the collapse came quickly and abruptly,” said Stoltenberg.

A new Afghanistan

Secretary General Stoltenberg said there is a lot to learn after the mission in Afghanistan but adds that there has also been progress.

“NATO and our partners went in after 9/11 to prevent the country from becoming a haven for terrorists. In the last two decades, there have been no terrorist attacks on Allied soil carried out from Afghanistan. Those who now take power have a responsibility to ensure that international terrorists do not gain a foothold again,” Stoltenberg said.

“Thanks to our military presence and support, a new generation has been able to grow up in a new Afghanistan, where they have been able to get an education, get involved in political processes, do business, and enjoy a diverse media climate. Today’s Afghanistan is very different from 2001.”

Stoltenberg said this is all not easy to reverse and emphasized that the world must continue to support a stable and peaceful Afghanistan.

Evacuation continues

NATO’s most immediate task, however, is to evacuate its own personnel and Afghans who have helped the alliance.

“Our people are working around the clock to keep the airport in Kabul in operation. The situation is very challenging, and I would like to thank the 800 civilian and military forces from our member countries who secured the airport,” said Stoltenberg and highlights forces from the United States, Turkey and the United Kingdom.

On Aug. 17, NATO countries agreed to send more planes and to work to complete the evacuation. Stoltenberg asked the Taliban to respect this process and ensure that the airport, roads, and borders are kept open.

“There must also be a peaceful transition—without revenge and retaliation—to an inclusive government. A government that does not respect fundamental rights risks being isolated from the international community,” said the NATO chief, emphasizing that all Afghans—men, women, and children—have the right to a safe and dignified life.

Emotional press conference

When Stoltenberg opened up for questions, the first journalist had to fight to hold back her tears.

Lailuma Sadid from Brussels Morning had a poster in the background with the text “Afghan lives matter.” She was very upset when she asked Stoltenberg about the future of women in Afghanistan. When she begged Stoltenberg not to recognize the incoming Taliban government, emotions took over.

Teri Schultz from National Public Radio based in the United States was also clearly affected when she asked questions about Afghan journalists, especially women.

“They are hiding in their houses. An education is not going to help them now,” Schultz said, before she asked what Stoltenberg can do to remedy their situation.

Stoltenberg replied, among other things, that NATO will assist in keeping the airport in Kabul open, so that people can get out.

Translated by Lori Ann Reinhall

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NTB (Norsk Telegrambyrå), the Norwegian News Agency, is a press agency and wire service that serves most of the largest Norwegian media outlets. The agency is located in Oslo and has bureaus in Brussels, Belgium, and Tromsø in northern Norway