NATO Eyes Troop Reductions in Afghanistan as U.S. Draws Down

FILE — Advisers from the United States Air Force, right, with Afghan National Army soldiers at an airfield in Kandahar, Dec. 13, 2018. The leader of the American and NATO missions in Afghanistan on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019, denied reports that support was being pulled back in anticipation of an agreement with the Taliban. (Bryan Denton/The New York Times)

Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Julian E. Barnes

c.2020 The New York Times Company


WASHINGTON — Some members of NATO are considering withdrawing thousands of their forces from Afghanistan once the United States begins to officially cut its own presence in the country, according to American and European officials.

The Trump administration’s decision to eventually reduce its own forces from roughly 12,000 troops to around 8,500 has triggered a debate within the 29-country alliance, as well as with other nations contributing troops to the international force deployed to Afghanistan. While some countries believe they need to reduce their forces, others, including Germany and Italy, believe their forces could remain under certain conditions.

The alliance has frequently said that its efforts were inexorably linked to the United States, often under the mantra “in together, out together.”

But as American negotiators look to finalize a new peace deal with the Taliban, some in the alliance view NATO’s future in Afghanistan as tenuous as the war enters, once more, a new phase. More than 1,000 troops from NATO and other allied nations have died in the 18-year-old war. Allies such as Britain and Canada fought bloody campaigns in the country’s south during the height of the conflict.

The peace talks between the United States and the Taliban restarted in December. But they remain mired as negotiators wrestle over how to reduce violence first. The Afghan government wants a cease-fire, and the Taliban has scaled back some attacks — but only on cities and main roads.

Even without a deal, the United States has said it will likely withdraw some troops in the coming months. On Tuesday, during his State of the Union address, President Donald Trump signaled that troop cuts in Afghanistan were likely.

The Americans have asked NATO to maintain its current force levels — regardless of the drawdown — to carry the bulk of the training mission going forward.

“I think it’s pretty presumptuous of the United States to draw down and expect the European countries to keep their current levels,” said Rachel Rizzo, an adjunct fellow in the Transatlantic Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. “NATO wouldn’t be in Afghanistan if it wasn’t for the United States.”

Barring a surprise announcement from the Trump administration, the discussions next week are unlikely to yield any dramatic decisions on the alliance’s force posture, allied officials said.