Nato 'preventing Afghanistan from becoming launch pad for global terror attacks'

Nato has prevented Afghanistan from becoming a "launch pad" for terrorist attacks around the world, the head of the alliance has said.

In recent weeks the country has been rocked by a series of fatal blasts and violence, as reports suggest the Taliban has regained 70% of the country.

Nato and the US-led coalition, which included Britain, fought in Afghanistan for more than a decade - handing over to the country's security forces in December 2014.

Since then Nato has been training Afghan forces - something Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said has stopped the country from becoming a haven for international terrorists.

"There are many problems in Afghanistan - there is violence, setbacks, there is an uncertainty about the future, but at least we have been able to, through the Nato presence in Afghanistan, to prevent Afghanistan from being a launch pad for terrorist attacks," he added.

"Al Qaida and ISIS cannot operate freely in Afghanistan, they are under attack from Afghan forces trained and supported by Nato."

Mr Stoltenberg rejected suggestions that the Taliban controls 70% of the country again, and said that just because the group can attack Kabul, it does not mean they control the city.

"The situation in Afghanistan is not easy. We see terrorist attacks, we see the Taliban, we see the Al Qaida network and we see the presence of ISIS," he told the Press Association.

"And therefore there is a cost for Nato to stay. But we have to compare the cost of staying with the cost of leaving.

"When we compare the cost of staying with the cost of leaving, I am absolutely certain that the cost of staying is smaller than the cost of leaving.

"Because if we left Afghanistan now, we have to be prepared for the fact that then the Taliban can come back and control Kabul.

"ISIS will then try to establish a caliphate, the caliphate they have lost in Syria and Iraq, they can try and re-establish in Afghanistan.

"And we risk that Afghanistan, again, becomes a safe haven for international terrorists and a platform for launching terrorist attacks against us.

"So yes, there are costs, there are challenges by staying in Afghanistan, but the cost of leaving is bigger."

Nato and the US-led coalition handed control over to Afghan  security forces in December 2014 (Ben Birchall/PA)
Nato and the US-led coalition handed control over to Afghan security forces in December 2014 (Ben Birchall/PA)

For years he said Nato conducted "big combat operations", during which there were many casualties, but that the way in which missions and operations in Afghanistan are now conducted has "totally changed".

"Since 2014 we turned over the responsibility in the country to the Afghans, and they have been able to take that responsibility and repel every time Taliban or terrorist attacks," he added.

"We saw the attack on the Intercontinental Hotel in Kabul, if that had happened before 2015 then it would have been British soldiers or Norwegian soldiers going in to that hotel and repelling the Taliban attack.

"Now it was the Afghan soldiers, they did it, so they have been able to respond to all of the attacks and have been able to prevent the Taliban from achieving their main strategic goal that was to control provincial capitals.

"The Taliban has not been successful in reaching that stated goal to control provincial capitals, I think the reason they are now turning back to terrorist attacks, is that they are not able to make regains on controlling more territory and provincial capitals."

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