ATHENS, Greece (AP) – In the context of the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the senior US military official will meet in Greece with his NATO counterparts this weekend, hoping to forge more grassroots agreements, exchange of intelligence and others to prevent terrorist groups from regrouping and threatening America and the region.
Army Gen. Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the meeting of NATO defense chiefs will focus in part on the way forward now that all alliance troops have withdrawn from Afghanistan and the Taliban. they are in control.
Milley, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and US intelligence officials warned that al-Qaida or the Islamic State group could regenerate in Afghanistan and pose a threat to the United States in a year or two.
The US military has said it can conduct counterterrorism surveillance and, if necessary, attacks in Afghanistan from “the horizon,” that is, from assets based in other countries. But they have made clear that surveillance flights from bases in the Persian Gulf are long and provide limited air time over Afghanistan. So they have talked about seeking ground-based agreements, overflight rights, and greater intelligence sharing with nations closest to Afghanistan, including some neighbors.
In recent months, however, US officials have reported little progress in the negotiations on the basic agreements.
Milly said she will speak with her military counterparts “to see what the possibilities are and then bring them back” to US defense and diplomatic leaders for further discussions. Then, he said, officials will see what they can turn into reality.
“We are going to talk about the capabilities on the horizon and where the allies deem it appropriate that they can make a contribution, we are certainly open to that,” Milley told reporters traveling with him to Greece. “There are opportunities where alliance members can choose to work closely with us in these capacities on the horizon.”
He said allies are concerned about counterterrorism and how to ensure effective defense against terrorists.
At the opening of the morning session on Saturday, NATO military leaders made clear that preventing a resurgence of terrorism in Afghanistan is a key goal for the alliance.
Greek Defense Minister Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos told the group that allies must ensure the safety of Afghans at risk who remain in the country and must prevent a humanitarian crisis.
More than 120,000 Americans, Afghans and others fled Afghanistan during the massive, chaotic airlift operation in the days after the capital Kabul fell to the Taliban. But thousands more were left behind, and many fled to the borders and sought help from aid agencies and ad hoc groups struggling to find ways to get out of the country.
Human rights and refugee groups urge the European Union to step up its aid to people trying to flee Afghanistan. The EU’s asylum agency said asylum applications from Afghans totaled 7,300 in July, before the government fell, representing a 21% increase over June. Almost 1,200 were unaccompanied minors. More than half of Afghans’ asylum applications in Europe are rejected.
“We are going through a period of significant challenges in Afghanistan,” Panagiotopoulos said, adding that a key risk is the flow of migration to Europe. He said allies must “provide support to countries in the immediate vicinity and must prevent a migration crisis at our borders.