NATO Still Unsure Who Will Protect Civilians, Secure Kabul Airport After Troop Drawdown

NATO diplomats said this week that they are still unsure who will protect civilians and secure Kabul's international airport after the organization's military forces are withdrawn from Afghanistan.

The concerns of NATO's diplomats came before the organization's Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said its pullout is "progressing" on Tuesday. Less than 9,000 troops from NATO and the U.S. are still in Afghanistan ahead of the set withdrawal date of September 11.

The alliance of 30 nations will continue their "civilian diplomatic presence in Kabul, to provide advice and capacity-building support to Afghan security institutions," Stoltenberg said.

NATO, which has been involved in Afghanistan since 2003, will continue to provide funding to Afghanistan's security force despite the troop pullout. Stoltenberg, who previously served as Norway's prime minister, also said that "at every step, the safety of our personnel remains paramount" as NATO's forces withdraw from the country.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg gives a press conference ahead of an online NATO Foreign and Defence Ministers' meeting at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels, on May 31, 2021. NATO's diplomats are unsure who will protect civilians and secure Afghanistan's Kabul airport following their troop withdrawal from the country. Olivier Hoslet/AFP via Getty Images

Stoltenberg said the military organization's pullout from Afghanistan is going well as at least six people were killed Tuesday in a series of attacks that plunged the country's capital, Kabul, into darkness.

NATO has helped provide security in Afghanistan for almost two decades, but it now believes the government and armed forces it has trained are strong enough to stand on their own in the conflict-torn country without the help of international troops.

NATO took charge of security efforts in Afghanistan two years after a U.S.-led coalition ousted the Taliban for harboring former Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. Up to 3,500 troops remaining in Afghanistan are U.S. personnel.

"The drawdown of our forces is progressing in an orderly and coordinated way," Stoltenberg told reporters after chairing virtual meetings of NATO's foreign and defense ministers.

Stoltenberg described the country's security force as "capable" and "strong."

It remains unclear exactly how money will be channeled to the Afghan army, which military experts have warned is made up of poorly trained, ill-equipped troops whose loyalties waver between their country and local warlords.

The experts say the Afghan armed forces, which are meant to be the bulwark against Taliban insurgents who have stepped up their attacks in recent months, is rife with corruption, demoralized and struggling to hold on to territory.

Three explosions rattled Kabul late Tuesday. Two bombs exploded in quick succession in separate locations in a western neighborhood, killing at least 10 people and wounding a dozen others, according to the Afghan Interior Ministry. A third blast heavily damaged an electrical grid station in north Kabul.

The former Norwegian prime minister said that NATO is also studying ways to educate Afghan troops and train special forces soldiers outside the country. He said the ministers agreed that "this continued support is the best way in which we can all contribute to peace efforts in Afghanistan."

NATO's departure from Afghanistan will figure high on the agenda of a summit in Brussels on June 14 led by U.S. President Joe Biden. No Afghan leaders will take part in the meeting.

Jens Stoltenberg
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a media conference after chairing on on-line meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Tuesday, June 1, 2021. Johanna Geron/Pool via AP