NATO ministers to hold talks as US announces Afghan withdrawal
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NATO defence and foreign ministers will hold a video conference Wednesday after the US said it was planning to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by September 11 this year.
The alliance announced the jumbo meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin attending in person after talks with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg.
A US official said on Tuesday that President Joe Biden had reached the conclusion to end Washington's two-decade involvement in Afghanistan by late this year.
The US has some 2,500 troops in Afghanistan as part of a 9,600-strong NATO mission in the country.
NATO allies had been waiting on Biden to make a decision on whether the US would stick to a May 1 deadline to withdraw under a deal struck between the administration of former US leader Donald Trump and the Taliban.
The other alliance members have said they would not remain in Afghanistan without US troops there.
"Allies have been closely consulting on the way forward in Afghanistan for many months," a NATO official told AFP.
On Wednesday, Stoltenberg "will discuss Afghanistan, as well as other issues, including Russia’s aggressive actions and preparations for the upcoming NATO summit," with Blinken and Austin, ahead of the virtual NATO ministers' meeting, the official said.
The US insists that, with the announced withdrawal, the Taliban must now make good on promises to lower violence and engage constructively in peace talks.
Turkey said Tuesday it will be holding another round of negotiations between representatives of the Afghan government and the insurgents from April 24 to May 4.
The virtual NATO meeting comes as concerns grow over a Russian build-up around Ukraine that has sparked fears of an escalation in the former Soviet state's long-running conflict.
Stoltenberg on Tuesday told Russia to end its "unjustified" troop movements around Ukraine, while Moscow insisted it had deployed troops for drills in response to threatening moves from NATO.