US will not leave Afghanistan unilaterally, Shanahan says

US will not leave Afghanistan unilaterally, Shanahan says

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, center, attends the NATO defense ministerial at NATO headquarters, Brussels, Belgium, Feb. 14, 2019 (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

WASHINGTON  Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said there will not be a unilateral U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and insisted the NATO nations will “stick together going forward.”

Speaking to reporters Thursday during a break in a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels, Shanahan said “this may be our moment” for peace in Afghanistan. He had visited that war zone for the first time on Monday and was briefing his defense counterparts of his meetings and observations.

“No outcome is predetermined (in Afghanistan),” Shanahan told reporters. “NATO continues in its critical role in developing Afghan security forces. NATO is coordinated and aligned. We are together. We are helping to ensure a diplomatic settlement.”

Shanahan was attending his first meeting with NATO defense ministers, whom he referred to as “family.” The defense secretary said he and his counterparts are united in the effort to further develop Afghan security forces.

“There will be no unilateral troops reduction,” Shanahan told reporters. “We will be coordinating. We’re together.”

He said NATO ministers discussed how “we double down” in support of Afghan forces to put even more pressure on the Taliban. “Let’s not let this opportunity be stolen away from us.”

Shanahan leaves Brussels later in the day for Germany.

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