by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at a ceremony marking the Joint Declaration between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and signature of an agreement between the United States and the Taliban
I am honoured to join you here in Kabul.
To mark the start of this new chapter for Afghanistan.
In a statement that we have just released,
all NATO Allies welcome this step towards peace.
The agreements between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan,
and between the United States and Taliban,
promise to end decades of devastating conflict.
And to pave the way for negotiations among Afghans,
as they begin to build a better future for all.
This is a victory for peace.
And a victory for the Afghan people.
Through their bravery and determination,
and the support of the international community,
Afghanistan is a very different country today than it was in 2001.
It is no longer a safe haven for international terrorists.
Terrorists who conducted the attacks against the United States,
and threatened people across the globe.
The security we have helped the Afghan forces to build has underpinned political, economic and social progress.
Child mortality has dropped dramatically.
Life expectancy has increased significantly.
And millions more Afghans are in school, including girls.
Today we see women’s representation at all levels.
And freedom of the press being expressed everyday.
20 years ago all of this would have been unthinkable.
I have seen this transformation,
from despair to hope,
driven by a deep desire for peace,
in the eyes of every Afghan I have met.
From political and military leaders to journalists and artists.
And from special operations forces to female fighter pilots.
The challenge now is to preserve these gains.
The price of peace cannot be to sacrifice progress.
Peace will only be sustainable if the human rights of all Afghans – women, men and children – are protected.
NATO Allies and partners will continue to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the people of Afghanistan.
As we have done since 2001.
Over the years, under the NATO flag, hundreds of thousands of troops from North America, Europe and countries around the whole world have been deployed to Afghanistan.
Thousands of troops from NATO Allies and partners remain in Afghanistan today,
to continue to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces and Afghan institutions.
Over the years we have provided critical funding to support the Afghan security forces.
And we will continue this funding.
Thanks to our training and financial backing, the Afghan security forces have become stronger and more professional.
And we will continue to support them as they build a safer and more secure Afghanistan.
To support this process and to support the peace process,
NATO will reduce its presence in Afghanistan,
step-by-step and conditions-based,
reflecting the progress we see on the ground.
NATO Allies and partners went into Afghanistan together.
We will adjust our presence together.
And when the time is right, we will leave together.
This will only happen when we are sure that the Afghan forces no longer require our support,
and that Afghanistan will never again become a platform for international terrorists.
The path to peace is long and hard.
And there may be setbacks.
We have already paid a high price.
So I pay tribute to those who have served so bravely.
And sacrificed so much.
In particular the Afghan security forces.
And the people of Afghanistan.
Whose strength and determination have laid the foundations for peace.
And I say to the Afghan people,
the international community stands with you.
NATO stands with you.
Now is not the time to waver.
Or to jeopardise the progress made.
The time for peace is now.
So I urge all Afghans to seize this historic moment.
To build a truly inclusive Afghanistan.
And to unite in the pursuit of lasting peace.