We will not allow terrorists to threaten us, NATO tells Taliban

Aug 20 (Reuters) – NATO foreign ministers on Friday warned the Taliban not to let Afghanistan become a breeding ground for terrorism, as it did two decades ago, prompting Western forces to intervene.

"For the last 20 years, we have successfully denied terrorists a safe haven in Afghanistan from which to instigate attacks," the alliance's foreign ministers said in a statement after a virtual crisis meeting.

"We will not allow any terrorists to threaten us. We remain committed to fighting terrorism with determination, resolve, and in solidarity."

The ministers did not explicitly threaten the Taliban with military strikes, though, as NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg did at a news conference earlier in the week.

"We have the capabilities to strike terrorist groups from a distance if we see that terrorist groups again try to establish themselves and plan, organise attacks against NATO allies and their countries," Stoltenberg said on Tuesday.

In his opening remarks on Friday, Stoltenberg called it NATO's priority to get people out of Kabul and keep the airport running.

"The situation remains difficult and unpredictable," he told reporters. "The main challenge we face is ensuring that people reach and enter Kabul airport."

More than 18,000 people have been flown out of Kabul since the Taliban took over Afghanistan's capital, according to a NATO official, but thousands of people, desperate to flee the country, are still thronging the airport.

Stoltenberg thanked Turkey, the United States and Britain for their efforts to establish security at Kabul airport, and again urged the Taliban to allow the safe passage of all foreign nationals and Afghans seeking to depart the country.

After almost two decades, NATO this summer completed military operations in Afghanistan and withdrew most troops from the country.

But the alliance still operates a diplomatic representation in Kabul and, headquartered in Brussels, it also serves as a forum to coordinate national measures in Afghanistan, such as the evacuation of citizens. (Reporting by Sabine Siebold Editing by John Chalmers)

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