by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to troops at the Train Advise and Assist Command – West, Herat, Afghanistan
Good morning. It’s a great pleasure and an honour to see you all this morning and also to be here together with the Chairman of the Military Committee in NATO, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, and also together with the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General Scaparrotti, and also Ambassador Zimmermann.
I am pleased to be here to tell you how grateful we are for your service, for what you do here in Afghanistan in Herat every day. Because you have to remember that you are in Afghanistan because NATO is in Afghanistan to make sure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for international terrorism. So this is about helping the Afghans but also about helping ourselves. It is in our security interest to make sure that Afghanistan not once again becomes a platform, a territory, a country where terrorist organisations can prepare, plan attacks against our own countries.
And that was also my main message during my visit to Kabul yesterday where I met President Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah and many other Afghan interlocutors. And my message to them was that we are committed, we will continue to stay in Afghanistan, to help to train, assist and advise the Afghan forces. We do not underestimate the challenges, the threats, the difficulties, but we strongly believe that the cost of staying - it’s much lower than the cost of leaving Afghanistan. Because if we leave Afghanistan today we risk that Taliban comes back, that different insurgent and terrorist organisations again will gain a foothold in Afghanistan and start to use Afghanistan as a platform for not only organising terrorist attacks against the people in Afghanistan but also against the people in our own countries. So that’s the reason why we are here.
Then we also strongly believe that the only way to solve the conflict in Afghanistan is to make sure that we have a political, negotiated, peaceful solution. So therefore NATO strongly supports the efforts to establish a peace process. NATO is not directly involved in the peace process, but we support an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process. And the best way of doing so is to continue to provide support to the Afghan National Army and security forces, because we have to send a clear message to Taliban and to the other insurgents that they cannot win on the battlefield. It’s pointless continuing to fight, it’s counter-productive to continue to fight and that they can achieve more by sitting down and engage in constructive talks to find a political, peaceful solution.
So therefore, we welcome the initiative by President Ghani to offer unconditional peace talks to the Taliban. We also welcome the initiative by the United States to initiate preliminary talks with the Taliban, but we need to combine these peace initiatives with continued military support. There is no contradiction between being firm and strong on the battlefield and at the same time engage in political efforts. Actually, as long as we are strong, as long as we provide continued military support to the Afghan forces, that’s the best way to create a platform for a political, negotiated solution. So our task is to create the conditions for a peaceful, negotiated solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.
Then I would like to tell you that even though I normally spend most of my time far away from Afghanistan in Brussels and in other NATO Allied countries, I always think about you and I am very grateful every day for what you do and the difficult circumstances far away from home, far away from your family, your loved ones. But what you do is of great importance for the whole Alliance. Our mission in Afghanistan is still our biggest military operation. It’s the only time NATO has invoked Article 5 and we did so after attack on the United States, 09/11/2001 and therefore, you are actually serving in the biggest and the most demanding and challenging NATO operation.
So, therefore, on behalf of all the 29 NATO Allies, but also on behalf of all the partner nations, I thank you for your service. I thank you for your commitment and you should all know that what you do is important for the people of Afghanistan, but is also extremely important for the people of all NATO Allies and our partner nations, because your service helps to keep us all safe.
So thank you so much. It’s great to see you and all the best and thank you for your effort and your service. Thank you.