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U.S. War Formally Ends in Afghanistan
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A flag-lowering ceremony in Afghanistan signaled the end of the U.S. war in the country.

Summary: On Sunday, the United States announced that its war in Afghanistan has come to an end, after thirteen years of fighting and thousands of casualties.

After thirteen violent years of fighting, the war in Afghanistan formally ended on Sunday, the Huffington Post reports. A small flag-lowering ceremony was conducted in Kabul. The ceremony symbolized the shift of fighting from the United States’ combat troops to Afghanistan’s security forces.

  
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The ceremony was held at NATO’s headquarters in front of a private audience. In attendance were diplomats, journalists, international military officers and Afghan military officials. The International Security Assistance Force’s green and white flag was rolled up and sheathed during the ceremony. In its place, the flag of a new international mission, Resolute Support, was raised.

Last year, a law student visited Afghanistan in hopes of reforming their system from within.

U.S. General John Campbell, the commander of the International Security Assistance Force, reflected on the 3,500 lives lost during the war, and applauded Afghanistan’s army for now being able to take on the war by itself. He said, “Resolute Support will serve as the bedrock of an enduring partnership (between NATO and Afghanistan).” He added, “The road before us remains challenging, but we will triumph.”

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On January 1, 2015,  the new mission will begin training and supporting Afghanistan’s military. The United States will comprise close to 11,000 of the 13,500 residual force members. President Barack Obama commented, “Thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, our combat mission in Afghanistan is ending, and the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion.” The president issued the statement while vacationing with his family in Hawaii over the holidays.

The accused Boston Bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, told law enforcement that the bombing at last year’s Boston Marathon was to avenge the war in Afghanistan.



President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan, whose term began in September, signed bilateral security agreements with both Washington and NATO. These agreements will allow ongoing military presence in Afghanistan. However, the move has triggered an increase in violence, which the Taliban claims is a reason to increase its operations to destabilize the government.

The International Security Assistance Force was created after the United States led the invasion into Afghanistan. It was set up as an umbrella for the league of close to 50 nations that sent troops to the country and provided security as well. The war cost 2,224 American soldiers their lives.

The mission originally had as its goal the overthrowing of the Taliban and finding al-Qaida members after the September 11 attacks. In 2010, roughly 140,000 troops occupied Afghanistan, the highest number of troops present during the war. President Obama ordered a surge to expel insurgents out of regions that were strategically significant, including Helmand and Kandahar in the south, where the Taliban’s capital was located from 1996 to 2001.

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, commented that the ceremony was a “defeat ceremony” and promised that the fight would continue. He said, “Since the invasion in 2001 until now, these events have been aimed at changing public opinion, but we will fight until there is not one foreign soldier on Afghan soil and we have established an Islamic state.”

President Obama had recently increased the role of the United States forces that remained in Afghanistan. President Obama allowed the troops to expand counter-terrorism operations to the Taliban and al-Qaida. In addition, the United States forces were to provide air and ground support for Afghan forces when necessary for the next two years at least.

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National security adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar made it clear that assistance is still needed for the country. At the flag-lowering ceremony, he said, “We need your help to build the systems necessary to ensure the long-term sustainability of the critical capabilities of our forces.”

Afghan citizens are torn about the withdrawal of troops. Many feel that troops are necessary to support the Afghan effort to achieve peace after over three decades of nonstop war. Gul Mohammad, 42, a shopkeeper in the country, said, “At least in the past 13 years we have seen improvements in our way of life—freedom of speech, democracy, the people generally better off financially.” He added that soldiers will still be needed “at least until our forces are strong enough, while our economy strengthens while our leaders try to form a government.”

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s Security General, has previously said that Afghanistan’s 350,000 member forces are well prepared to take on the insurgency. However, other officials have complained that Afghanistan lacks the necessary assets to do so, including intelligence, medical evacuation systems, and air support. At the ceremony, he said that the International Security Assistance Force’s goal was “carried out at great cost but with great success.” He explained, “we have made our own nations safer by denying safe haven to international terrorists. We have made Afghanistan stronger by building up from scratch strong security forces. Together we have created the conditions for a better future for millions of Afghan men, women and children.”

Last year, Saudi Arabia was accused of providing support to al Qaeda before the September 11 attacks.

The Afghan forces face several challenges as they assume power. The country still does not have a Cabinet in place, even three months after President Ghani’s inauguration. Economic growth has come to a halt since international military presence and other assistance has ended. The United States spent over $100 million on reconstruction alone. $1 trillion was spent on the war.

This year was reported to be the deadliest in the war’s history. The United Nations predicts that civilian casualties will reach 10,000 for the first time since it started keeping records in 2008. Most of these deaths and injuries were caused by the Taliban.

Just Saturday, two teenage boys were killed in the Wardak province after a rocket was fired close to a children’s volleyball game. Another five kids, ranging in age from 11 to 14, were injured by shrapnel. Governor Abdul Saboor Wafa’s office added that eight insurgents were killed in an army counter-insurgency operation Saturday night.

In addition, many of Afghanistan’s security forces have been killed. Roughly 5,000 of Afghanistan’s army, police, and paramilitary have been killed. Close to 3,200 of these deaths were police officers.

Photo credit: freep.com



 

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