NATO's two-decade war against the Taliban is "unwinnable", European diplomats have claimed – as Joe Biden weighs up whether to pull troops out of Afghanistan.
Defence ministers will discuss the future of Nato's 9,600-strong support mission at a two-day virtual summit starting today, their first talks since Biden took office.
Donald Trump last year sidelined allies and struck his own deal with the Taliban to withdraw all US troops by May.
The Biden administration – which wants closer ties with Nato after four years of tensions under Trump – is reviewing whether to stick to the May 1 deadline or risk a bloody backlash by staying.
Critics say pulling out would hand the Taliban a victory after the terror group went back on promises to stop attacks and cut ties with al-Qaeda.
One European diplomat said ahead of the talks: "This war is not winnable, but Nato cannot allow itself to lose it pitifully."
And today Germany's defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said: "We can already say that we are not yet in a position to talk about the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan."
She added: "This also means a changed security situation, an increased threat for the international forces, also for our own forces. We have to prepare for this, and we will certainly discuss this."
No announcement will be made when the summit wraps up tomorrow, but other Nato members insist they are willing to remain in Afghanistan so long as Washington stays too.
New US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin will "consult with allies about the process and take their feedback", a senior US official said, adding: "All options remain under consideration."
Nato countries are desperate not to see Afghanistan slide back into chaos after the enormous cost in lives and money since operations began in the wake of the September 11 attacks.
They fear Afghanistan could once again provide sanctuary for groups like Al-Qaeda, and already ISIS has a growing presence in the country which it could use as a launchpad for attacks on the West.
"While no ally wants to stay in Afghanistan longer than necessary, we will not leave before the time is right," Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Monday.
AMERICA’s operations in Afghanistan – launched after the 9/11 attacks – have come at great cost.
19: Years since war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban started in October 2001.
2,305: Number of US personnel who have died in Afghanistan since 2001.
20,320: number of US personnel wounded in action.
110,000: Total number of US troops in Afghanistan at the height of deployment in 2011.
$778bn: Total US military expenditure in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2019. Another $44bn has gone on reconstruction projects.
The summit is the first test of Biden's commitment to the strained alliance – after Trump reportedly came close to pulling the US out of Nato altogether.
He accused members such as Germany of not pulling their weight and demanded they spend more on defence.
Last February the US agreed to begin pulling all its troops out of Afghanistan in a deal signed with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar.
In return the Taliban agreed to stop violence and engage in talks with the Afghan government to reach a long-term peace agreement.
But violence has raged across the country after those talks broke down.
In recent months Taliban fighters launched a string of offensives against two provincial capitals, and were blamed for a wave of assassinations targeting journalists, politicians and activists.
Yesterday the Taliban demanded the US honour the Doha deal – despite refusing to keep their side of the bargain.
Mullahs warned Nato ministers not to seek a "continuation of occupation and war".
Today the Taliban celebrated New Zealand's announcement it will withdraw the last of its soldiers by May.
“We urge all countries that have exhausted their troops in a long & unwinnable war in Afghanistan to take similar steps,” spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed tweeted.
Trump cut the number of US personnel in Afghanistan from 13,000 a year ago to 2,500 now.
A recent study mandated by the US Congress called for a delay in the troops pullout, warning it would effectively hand the Taliban a victory.
Some 2,305 US servicemen and women have died in Afghanistan and more than 20,000 were injured since 2001.
At the height of the deployment in 2011, the US had around 110,000 troops and it was costing $100bn a year.
The UK has lost 456 personnel in the country, out of a total 3,502 deaths among the coalition of more than 30 nations.
Currently Britain has around 1,000 troops and Germany has 1,100.
Most are supporting Afghan forces with advice and training.
Yesterday we reported how 30 Taliban fanatics blew themselves up at a bomb-making school in a mosque.
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