Feb. 15 (UPI) -- NATO troops will not soon leave Afghanistan, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday, in preparation for a conference of defense ministers.
All 30 defense ministers of NATO nations will convene later this week for a two-day virtual conference. Stoltenberg outlined the agenda Monday.
"Our common goal is clear," Stoltenberg said. "Afghanistan should never again serve as a haven for terrorists to attack our homelands, so our presence is conditions-based. While no ally wants to stay in Afghanistan longer than necessary, we will not leave before the time is right."
NATO's mission in Afghanistan began in 2001 with the International Security Assistance Force. While it was charged with training Afghan military and security personnel, it also engaged in combat against the country's Taliban insurgency. The ISAF formally disbanded in 2014 but NATO troops remained as advisers to the Resolute Support Mission, a successor organization.
About 4,500 U.S. troops, of about 9,600 NATO troops, remain in Afghanistan.
The conference will be the first since U.S. President Joe Biden assumed office. Biden has signaled support for a stronger NATO, although he has also stated an interest in removing all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by May.
On Monday, Stoltenberg said other topics that ministers at the conference would discuss include proposals for the "NATO 2030" project to update and upgrade NATO capabilities, notably in cybersecurity and in space; an increase in funding for core deterrence and defense activities; additional deployments in Eastern Europe; an improvement in what he termed a "NATO defense innovation initiative"; security implications of climate change; and enhanced political dialogue with Russia and China.