Acting Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan met with the leader of NATO on Monday to announce the military alliance will increase defense spending by $100 billion through 2020 and discuss “encouraging” peace talks with the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Shanahan reaffirmed the Pentagon’s commitment to NATO with Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg adding troops remain on schedule to meet readiness initiatives, with both leaders confirming a framework for ending the war in Afghanistan is beginning in earnest while not offering specifics on a potential withdrawal.
“Our recent funding increases let us bolster deterrence and defense through larger and more frequent exercises, mobility and infrastructure improvements and a revamped NATO response force and command structure,” Shanahan said during prepared remarks following a welcome ceremony. “And this has allowed us to increase our force presence on the territory of our most vulnerable allies. A few years ago, achieving these improvements and funds might have seemed impossible. A few years from now, we will write the same success story on readiness.”
The $100 billion increase follows repeated calls from President Donald Trump for NATO to increase its share of defense spending commitments.
Stoltenberg said the $100 billion is expected to be shared by NATO allies across Canada and Europe through 2020.
Shanahan noted he has already seen an increase in NATO allies’ burden sharing, including a 12 percent increase since 2017 in spending in Afghanistan.
“It’s the highest levels of contribution in the history of the mission. And when we consider your work on equitable burden sharing within our alliance, we see a remarkable progress,” Shanahan said.
The two leaders also met amid discussions with the Taliban to facilitate a framework for peace talks with the Taliban and details of a potential withdrawal of troops.
“We welcome the talks with Taliban. Ambassador Khalilzad briefed all allies a few weeks ago and the reason why NATO is in Afghanistan is to create a condition for…peaceful solution to make sure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists and to send a message to Taliban that they will not win on the battlefield, so they have to sit down at the negotiating table, and therefore we are encouraged by what we see now, the progress and — and talks with Taliban,” Stoltenberg said.
Shanahan told reporters he believed the talks between U.S. officials and the Taliban were “encouraging.”
Both officials would not confirm details on troop withdrawals, with Stoltenberg adding the goal remains to assist with training Afghan security forces and ensuring the situation remains stable before leaving.
“We will not stay longer than necessary, but we will not leave before we have a situation which enables to leave or at reduce the number of troops without jeopardizing the main goal of our presence, and that is to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for international terrorists once again,” Stoltenberg said. “I think it’s a bit too early to speculate, because what we have to do now is to support the efforts to try to find a peaceful solution. We strongly support those efforts.”