BRUSSELS, NATO foreign ministers agreed on Tuesday to keep 12,000 troops in Afghanistan through 2016 to assist local security forces.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg made the announcement in Brussels, Belgium.
The Voice of America quoted Stoltenberg as saying NATO would field “approximately 12,000 troops” for the Resolute Support Mission, which provides Afghan security forces with training, advice and assistance. The figure is a rough match to current NATO troop strength in the country, he said.
The Resolute Support Mission began in January after NATO handed responsibility for security in Afghanistan to local forces, which have since experienced a rise in attacks on soldiers and police by insurgents.
The Taliban captured several districts and cities in Afghanistan this year — including the Musa Qala district of Helmand province in August and the northern city ofKunduz in September — but lost them to counter-attacking Afghan security forces backed by U.S. airstrikes.
In a statement released Tuesday, NATO foreign ministers said Afghan security forces “continue to make steady progress and to learn lessons, but challenges and capability gaps persist. NATO Allies and Resolute Support operational partners commend and support their efforts, which need to be sustained and enhanced.”
Tuesday’s announcement came two days after the Afghan defense ministry said security forces killed five Islamic State militants in eastern Afghanistan, where IS groups have concentrated after breaking away from the Taliban.
By Fred Lambert