NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the military alliance remains committed to restoring peace in Afghanistan, despite rising Afghan casualties and repeated delays to begin peace talks.
"Together we reaffirmed our commitment to Afghanistan's long-term security and stability," Stoltenberg told reporters Wednesday after the two-day NATO ministerial meeting in Brussels.
NATO assumed the lead role in providing international security in Afghanistan 15 years ago, but a senior U.S. general warned recently the death was becoming unsustainable.
Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, who has been nominated to command the U.S. forces who oversee the Afghan war, told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this week Afghan forces were still unable to neutralize the Taliban.
The Taliban, a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist political movement, made steady gains in recent years and now number about 60,000 in Afghanistan. NATO has some 16,000 troops in the country, advising and assisting local forces.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said last month nearly 30,000 local troops had been killed since they took control of security from NATO in 2015, far more than previously acknowledged.
Stoltenberg stressed the importance of improving the election process before next year's presidential elections "because successful elections will reinforce Afghanistan's path towards stability and peace."
The Secretary-General also said the Taliban must understand that "continuing to fight is pointless and only causes more suffering." He added: "They should sit down at the negotiating table. We are committed to supporting Afghanistan."
Stoltenberg acknowledged the rising death toll, saying in conflict situations there are sometimes "an increase in violence because different parties try to gain the best possible position at the bargaining table."
"So it may actually become worse before it becomes better in Afghanistan," Stoltenberg warned.
Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani said at the news conference his country is eager to collaborate with NATO and other global partners to end the conflict.
"In the broader context, we look forward to continuing our partnership with NATO and other international partners for Afghanistan's stability and, more broadly, to enhance global security," he said.
After the talks in Brussels, foreign ministers from countries participating in NATO's Resolute Support mission again called for direct talks between the Taliban and the government.