The United States defense secretary, Ashton Carter, has asked NATO allies in a meeting on Thursday in Brussels to remain flexible when they review their plans of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Carter said a number of NATO allies indicated a willingness to review their plans.
“I was very pleased to hear ministers of defense from our NATO partners reaffirm their commitment – discussing not whether but how to continue the mission in Afghanistan. It is of course the view of the United States,” Carter said.
He said that they are continuing the mission in a 3-step action plan. The first step was when President Barack Obama decided in March this year to maintain 9 800 US troops in Afghanistan until the end of this year. The original plan had suggested keeping only 5 500 troops by the end of 2015.
The second is to formulate options for 2016 and beyond and adjust the planned US presence in Afghanistan based on current circumstances according to the Department of Defense.
The third plan of action involves the 2017 fiscal year’s defense budget, in which Carter said he would include “critical financial support to the Afghan national defense and security forces to help it sustain its current force levels of 352 000 troops in 2017 and beyond”.
Meanwhile NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, announced that the alliance’s doors were open for keeping more forces in Afghanistan beyond 2016.
“All allies agreed that we will continue to support Afghans, so what we are discussing is not whether we are going to leave or stay, because we are going to stay,” he said.
He affirmed that NATO will continue to support Afghanistan through the Resolute Support (RS) mission which began after the formal end of their combat mission in 2014.
However in recent weeks the US is considering new draw down options which include keeping thousands of soldiers in Afghanistan beyond the end of 2016.
Most Afghans welcomed the decision by the US to consider keeping forces in Afghanistan beyond 2016.