WASHINGTON — NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg placed the blame squarely on the Afghan national government Tuesday for the stunning and swift Taliban takeover, echoing remarks President Joe Biden made a day earlier.
“Ultimately the Afghan political leadership failed to stand up to the Taliban and achieve the peaceful solution that Afghans desperately wanted,” Stoltenberg told reporters at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels.
“Despite our considerable investment and sacrifice over two decades, the collapse was swift and sudden. There are many lessons to be learned,” he said, adding that “the failure of Afghan leadership led to the tragedy we are witnessing today.”
In April, the 30-member military alliance alongside the U.S. announced the withdrawal of Afghanistan-based troops. The inception of the NATO mission in Afghanistan stems from the groups’ mutual defense clause, known as Article 5.
The alliance has only invoked Article 5 once in its history — in defense of the United States in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
American forces toppled the Taliban in 2001 after the group harbored Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda leaders who carried out the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Two years later, U.S. troops invaded Iraq, a move aimed at removing then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
“NATO allies and partners went into Afghanistan after 9/11 to prevent the country from serving as a safe haven for international terrorists to attack us. In the last two decades, there have been no terrorist attacks on allied soil organized from Afghanistan,” Stoltenberg said.
“Today’s Afghanistan is very different from Afghanistan of 2001,” he added.
Stoltenberg’s remarks come one day after Biden criticized Afghanistan’s political leadership for allowing rapid Taliban gains across the country amid the departure of U.S. and NATO forces.
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“The truth is this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated,” Biden said in a speech from the White House, adding that he had been assured by now-deposed President Ashraf Ghani that the U.S.-trained and equipped Afghan troops would hold their positions.
“Mr. Ghani insisted the Afghan forces would fight, but obviously he was wrong,” Biden said.
Despite being vastly outnumbered by the Afghan military, which has long been assisted by U.S. and coalition forces, the Taliban entered Kabul on Sunday .
Earlier on Sunday, Ghani fled the country as Western nations rushed to evacuate embassies amid a deteriorating security situation.
“American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves,” Biden said. “We gave them every chance to determine their own future. We could not provide them with the will to fight for that future.”
“I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces,” Biden said in a memorable speech delivered from the East Room of the White House.