NATO has reduced its military personnel in Afghanistan to fewer than 12,000, the alliance's chief Jens Stoltenberg said Friday
"NATO backs the [Afghan] peace process, and we have adjusted our presence to support it; a few years ago, we had over 100 thousand troops engaged in combat operations. Now we have reduced our presence to under 12 thousand," Stoltenberg told a press conference after the meeting of NATO defense ministers.
"The Taliban must reduce the unacceptable levels of violence, to pave the way for a ceasefire. They must break all ties with Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, so that Afghanistan never again serves as a platform for terrorist attacks on our countries," the NATO secretary general said.
At the same time, Stoltenberg admitted that the alliance had been facing a dilemma regarding withdrawal from Afghanistan as it was very important to preserve the gains of the last the decades "which cost so much sacrifice" and prevent the country from becoming again a safe haven for terrorists.
On February 29, the United States and the Taliban movement signed a peace deal in Doha, stipulating a gradual withdrawal of US troops, as well as the beginning of intra-Afghan negotiations and prisoner exchanges.
Peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban began in the Qatari capital on September 12. Both sides have expressed their commitment to reaching a long-lasting ceasefire, despite the occasional resumption of violence. Key topics on the agenda include a permanent ceasefire, Afghanistan's future political system and a range of social issues.