NATO ministers meet to prepare summit, Afghan withdrawal

International

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during a press briefing ahead to an online NATO Foreign and Defense Ministers’ meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels, Monday, May 31, 2021. (Olivier Hoslet/Pool Photo via AP)

BRUSSELS (AP) — NATO’s foreign and defense ministers were meeting Tuesday to lay the groundwork for the military alliance’s first summit with U.S. President Joe Biden, setting aside four tumultuous years with the Trump administration.

The ministers will discuss a hefty communique being drafted for the June 14 summit in Brussels, which will reaffirm the unity of the 30-nation security alliance — which has been riven by infighting in recent years — and focus on future threats and challenges.

“This is a pivotal moment for our alliance, and our collective security,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on the eve of the meetings. “In a more competitive and unpredictable world, we need transatlantic unity.”

Chief among the challenges is dealing with an increasingly aggressive Russia, whose defense minister announced Monday that Russia would establish 20 new military units in its western sector this year to counter what it claims is a growing threat from NATO.

The rise of China and the impact of climate change — two of the Biden administration’s key interests — will also be discussed, along with missile defense, cyber and hybrid warfare, and the use of disinformation.

The most pressing subject for debate will be winding up NATO’s operations in Afghanistan. Biden has pledged to have U.S. troops out of the conflict-ravaged country by Sept. 11, but many are likely to have left by the time the summit takes place.

But major questions remain over exactly how NATO will continue to fund the corruption-ridden Afghan security forces, whether to continue training special forces troops somewhere outside the country, and exactly who might provide security for civilian workers, embassies and Kabul’s airport.

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