Jens Stoltenberg calls on Taliban to reduce violence, insisting "our presence in Afghanistan is conditions-based" during a virtual meeting of NATO defence ministers.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said that the military alliance will only leave Afghanistan when security conditions allow, as a deadline for withdrawing troops set out in a peace deal with the Taliban nears.
"Our presence in Afghanistan is conditions-based, and Taliban has to meet their commitments," Stoltenberg told reporters on Wednesday after chairing a meeting of NATO defence ministers, including new US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin.
"The main issue is that Taliban has to reduce violence, Taliban has to negotiate in good faith and Taliban has to stop supporting international terrorist groups like Al Qaeda," Stoltenberg said.
"We will only leave when the time is right and the focus now is how we can support the peace talks," he said, referring to slow-moving negotiations between the Taliban and the Kabul government, which began last year in Qatar.
Review of US-Taliban deal
NATO has just under 10,000 troops in the war-ravaged country helping to train and advise the Afghan security forces.
Most of them are not US forces, but the allies could not continue the NATO operation if American transport, logistics, and other support are withdrawn.
President Joe Biden is reviewing his predecessor's 2020 deal with the Taliban, which includes a May 1 deadline for a final US troop withdrawal.
In Washington, calls are mounting for the US to delay the final exit or renegotiate the deal to allow the presence of a smaller, intelligence-based American force.
NATO members want longer US stay
None of the 30 NATO member governments has publicly argued that security conditions are right for a withdrawal, and several allies would probably support a longer stay if the US requests it.
The defence ministers are due to discuss Afghanistan more broadly on Thursday.
But with the US review ongoing it's unlikely that any firm decision on the future of NATO's operation will be made. That could come when foreign ministers next meet, in mid-March.
NATO took control of international security operations in Afghanistan in 2003, two years after a US-led coalition ousted the Taliban for harbouring former Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
It's the military alliance's longest, costliest, and most ambitious operation ever.