NATO: Taliban Must Allow Passage to Those Wishing to Leave As Some Planes Depart Nearly Empty

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the Taliban must grant free passage to those wishing to leave Afghanistan under the group's recent return to power as some NATO planes that recently arrived in Kabul departed nearly or entirely empty, the Associated Press reported.

NATO foreign ministers said Friday that they are focusing on how to safely evacuate their citizens and Afghans thought to have their safety compromised because of the Taliban. Stoltenberg said the "big challenge" for NATO is working "harder on how we can get more people...into the airport, then processed and then onto the planes."

"As long as evacuation operations continue, we will maintain our close operational cooperation through Allied military means," said a joint NATO statement about evacuation efforts at the Kabul airport.

"They (the United States) have assured us that they won't withdraw from the airport until the last person requiring evacuation is out," Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles said to Spanish public radio RNE.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the Taliban must allow Afghans who want to leave Afghanistan free passage. Above, Stoltenberg attends a NATO Foreign Ministers video meeting following developments in Afghanistan at NATO headquarters in Brussels on August 20, 2021. Francisco Seco/AFP via Getty Images

As NATO foreign ministers committed to focus on ensuring the safe evacuation of their citizens and of Afghans deemed at risk after the Taliban takeover they centered on improving operations at Kabul airport first.

NATO is faced with continuing chaos in the capital and the exit roads.

Some allies called on the U.S. to secure Kabul airport for as long as it takes, even if that stretches beyond the evacuation of all U.S. nationals.

Beyond the immediate challenge, the NATO foreign ministers insisted that the new rulers in Kabul would have to make sure that the nation does not revert to being a center for terrorism.

"We will not allow terrorists to threaten us again from Afghanistan," said Stoltenberg, reminding that NATO's engagement in the nation was based on the 9/11 attacks on the U.S. in 2001.

NATO has been leading international security operations in Afghanistan since 2003 but wound up combat operations in 2014 to focus on training the country's national security forces. NATO helped build up an army of some 300,000, but that force withered under the Taliban offensive in just days.

NATO headquarters has blamed a failure of Afghan leadership for the swift collapse of the country's Western-backed armed forces.

A year ago, NATO's "Resolute Support Mission" to train Afghan security forces involved around 10,000 personnel from 36 member and partner countries. Last Sunday, there were no troops under NATO command in Afghanistan.

NATO Foreign Minsters Meeting on Afghanistan
A screen displays NATO Foreign Ministers as they listen to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg during a video meeting following developments in Afghanistan at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on August 20, 2021. Francisco Seco/AP Photo