NATO aware of reports about US troop cuts in Afghanistan

NATO says it has seen reports that the United States could be readying to pull thousands of troops out of Afghanistan but is declining to comment on them

The Associated Press and others reported Thursday that U.S. officials said that the Pentagon is developing plans to possibly withdraw up to 7,000 troops serving in the conflict-torn country, marking a sharp change with a policy that had aimed to force the Taliban to the peace table after more than 17 years of war.

It was unclear which American troops might leave or whether NATO has been informed.

Asked whether NATO was aware of any change of U.S. troop posture in Afghanistan and what impact it might have on the mission, spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said only that "we have seen the reports." She referred all questions to U.S. authorities.

But Lungescu underlined that "our engagement is important to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists who could threaten us at home."

She noted that the Afghan police and army have been in charge of security efforts for over four years.

NATO leaders agreed in July to extend funding to the Afghan security forces until 2024 and earlier this month foreign ministers from the 29-nation alliance reaffirmed their commitment to the country.

Lungescu praised his "key contribution to keeping NATO strong and ready to deal with the significant security challenges we face, while ensuring a fairer share of the burden across our alliance. He is widely respected as a soldier and a diplomat."

She said that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will continue to work closely with Mattis until he leaves office in February and expects to do the same with his successor.