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12000 NATO troops to stay in Afghanistan

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Image Source- nbcnews.com

New Delhi: Entering into its 15 years of turmoil, Afghanistan still needs NATO support to live in a ‘peaceful environment’. Jens Stoltenberg, alliance head of NATO, announced on Wednesday that over 12,000 security troops would stay put in Afghanistan for an extended year till 2016 to eliminate any threat of the country becoming a terrorist safe haven.

The initial plan of the organisation was to vacate Afghanistan by now, but reality seldom matches schedules. Now, NATO is considering to keep troops till next year and extend its funding of the Afghan security forces till 2020.

NATO’s resolute backing assistance and training operation were expected to end this year but Taliban battlefield victories, particularly their recent brief detention of the northern city of Kunduz, stimulated a radical re-think.

Stoltenberg, after a talk with foreign ministers, endorsed the decision and said in an interview with Reuters, “Today, NATO allies and Resolute Support operational partners have agreed to sustain the Resolute Support presence … during 2016.”

The US and NATO forces were to progressively retreat their forces from Afghanistan In 2011 and hand over the undertakings in 2014 to the Afghans. Although, US and NATO troops succeeded in removing themselves from prime focus to a rather supporting role, but they still stayed there in the name of a new mission till 2015 and the timetable has now been stretched further.

The US President Barak Obama had announced from the White House on May 2014, that by the end of 2016, merely a rudimentary force of Americans would persist in Afghanistan. A year and a half later, in October 2015, Obama announced a change in plan that the US would continue with 9,800 US armed forces in the country through “most of 2016” and 5,500 through 2017.

Contrasting the US, NATO never mentioned a time frame to end its “Resolute Support” in the training mission of Afghanistan. The non-combat force comprises of troops from some 40 countries, including NATO members, the US and their partners.

NATO does aim at seeing Afghanistan free of external forces and be self-sufficient to maintain peace in the country not later than 2024 and take “full financial responsibility” for their individual security forces, according to a statement given in 2012 by the forces.

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“Visit Strengthens Further Internal Cohesion and Unity”: Pope Francis Meets Leaders of North Macedonia

Ahead of his visit, Francis praised the mix of cultures, religions, and ethnicities in North Macedonia, and said he was traveling there to "sow these seeds" of solidarity.

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Pope Francis
Pope Francis greets the crowds in Skopje on May 7. RFERL

Pope Francis, who is on a historic first trip to North Macedonia, has met with the country’s leadership and held Mass in the main square of the capital, Skopje.

Francis was welcomed by the outgoing president, Gjorge Ivanov, and other government officials.

He has sought to encourage the country’s drive toward integration into the EU and NATO after its name change resolved a decades-long dispute with Greece last year.

Like neighboring Bulgaria — Francis’s first stop on his three-day Balkan tour — North Macedonia, a small Balkan country of 2.1 million, is mainly Orthodox Christian.

But the country has a large community of ethnic Albanian Muslims, who make about one-quarter of the population. North Macedonia is home to an estimated 15,000 Catholics.

In meetings with Ivanov and with Prime Minister Zoran Zaev at the presidential palace, Francis praised North Macedonia’s multiethnic and multifaith culture, calling it an example of peaceful coexistence and a bridge between East and West.

“These particular features are also highly significant for increased integration with the nations of Europe,” he said.

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Like neighboring Bulgaria — Francis’s first stop on his three-day Balkan tour — North Macedonia, a small Balkan country of 2.1 million, is mainly Orthodox Christian. VOA

“It is my hope that this integration will develop in a way that is beneficial for the entire region of the Western Balkans, with unfailing respect for diversity and for fundamental rights.”

In his speech, President Ivanov complained about delays in accepting Macedonia in the Euro-Atlantic family.

“You come at a time when [North] Macedonian society is deeply divided, and the [North] Macedonian [nation] is heavily wounded by broken promises, unfulfilled expectations and faltering trust in the international community,” he said.

Viktor Dimovski, state secretary of North Macedonia’s Foreign Ministry, told the media on May 6 that the pope’s historic visit comes at a crucial moment as the country seeks entry into the European Union and NATO.

“The pope’s visit strengthens further internal cohesion and unity, and brings messages of reconciliation and solidarity,” he said.

The pope’s visit also included a prayer at the memorial of North Macedonia’s most famous native daughter, Mother Teresa, who was born Anjeze Gonxhe Bojaxhiu to Albanian parents in 1910 in Skopje when it was still part of the Ottoman Empire.

Francis was surrounded by Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity nuns in praying before the memorial. Mother Teresa was canonized by Francis in 2016.

Ahead of his visit, Francis praised the mix of cultures, religions, and ethnicities in North Macedonia, and said he was traveling there to “sow these seeds” of solidarity.

“Living together is not always easy, we know that,” the pope said in a video message. “But it’s worth struggling toward, because the most beautiful mosaics are the ones that are richest in colors.”

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But the country has a large community of ethnic Albanian Muslims, who make about one-quarter of the population. Pixabay

With the name dispute with Greece now resolved, North Macedonia, which has been an EU aspirant since 2005, hopes to get a clear signal for the start of accession talks in June. Skopje also expects to become the 30th NATO member at the end of the year.

Also Read: Puppeteers Bring Message of Harmony, Love, Tolerance in Pakistan’s Karachi

Stevo Pendarovski, who was elected president in a runoff election on May 5, said he saw his victory as a “ticket for NATO and EU.”

Six Western Balkan countries — Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia — are in various stages of the accession process to join the EU. (RFERL)