NATO chief on evacuation of people from Afghanistan, Taliban on terrorism

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Afghan people sit as they wait to leave Kabul Airport on August 16, 2021 after a surprisingly quick end to the 20 Years War in Afghanistan as thousands of people besieged the city’s airport to the dreaded Islamist Escape hardline rule of the group.

Deputy Kohsar | AFP | Getty Images

The main focus in Afghanistan is now on evacuating people from the country, said NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, as reports of violence and repression continue to emerge despite the Taliban’s promises of peace.

“We’re working around the clock to get as many people out as possible,” he told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble on Friday.

US President Joe Biden said more than 18,000 people have been evacuated from Afghanistan since late July and 5,700 in the last 24 hours on Friday afternoon in US Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said most of the evacuees were Afghan nationals.

At the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting on Friday, many allies offered to take in refugees temporarily or to relocate some Afghans more permanently, said Stoltenberg. Countries include Poland, Hungary, Canada and “many others,” he said.

Afghanistan came under the control of the Taliban after the Islamist group took the capital Kabul in early August. Since the US announced in April that NATO and US forces would withdraw from Afghanistan by September 11, the Taliban have begun to make rapid progress on the battlefield. Now almost the entire nation is under the control of the insurgents.

Since then, people have tried to leave the country.

Read more about developments in Afghanistan:

Stoltenberg said NATO members were concerned about getting their personnel and other personnel out of Afghanistan but also wanted to help locals leave the country – many have supported US-led efforts in the country over the years.

“We’ve got a lot out of it already, but there are many more that we need to help,” he said.

‘Hard decision’

The West has been criticized for the chaos that unfolded in Afghanistan after the Taliban swiftly took over the country, including the presidential palace.

NATO and President Biden have blamed the local Afghan government for not opposing the militant Islamic group.

Stoltenberg said NATO – a 30-strong military alliance – made a “very difficult and difficult decision” in deciding to withdraw these troops, a move that some observers have branded a task.

There are “serious and hard questions” to be asked about how this withdrawal was carried out, he told CNBC.

However, staying in the country risks “open military conflict with more victims, more violence” and the possible need to send more troops, he said. On the other hand, the exit meant the Taliban could return to power.

“We were very clear about the risks of ending our military mission, but what we didn’t expect was surprising how quickly the Afghan government and security forces collapse,” he said. “But we also have to look at NATO and our engagement and the hard lessons we have to draw from it.”

Stoltenberg said the main goal of entering Afghanistan is to prevent international terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS from operating in the country and that goal has been achieved.

The promises of the Taliban

NATO has made it clear that it expects the Taliban to adhere to its “obligation” not to make Afghanistan a haven for terrorists, said Stoltenberg.

“We expect them to honor that commitment, but we must remain vigilant,” he said, adding that NATO members have stated that they can attack terrorist groups in Afghanistan “even without thousands of boots on the ground”.

The Taliban have presented a conciliatory picture, but reports of deaths and beatings have surfaced in the past few days. When asked if NATO believes it can work with the group, Stoltenberg said the alliance would “judge them by their actions, not their words.”

But he admitted that without troops in the country, NATO will have less influence than before.

“But no matter what kind of government we get in Kabul, the allies are ready to use their leverage,” he told CNBC. These include diplomatic, political, economic and financial tools that can be used to support the development of an Afghanistan where human rights, including women’s rights, are respected, he said.

– CNBC’s Natasha Turak and Amanda Macias contributed to this report.