NATO-led forces and U.S. military personnel formally ended a 13-year war in Afghanistan today amid an escalating insurgency that threatens to undermine the nation’s second elected government.
“Our combat mission in Afghanistan is ending, and the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion,” U.S. President Obama said in a statement from Honolulu, where he is on vacation with his family.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization will switch its focus starting Jan. 1 to training and assisting Afghan forces, International Security Assistance Force Commander General John Campbell said Sunday after a flag-changing ceremony in Kabul.
“We are not walking away,” Campbell said. Mission “Resolute Support will serve as the bedrock of an enduring partnership” between NATO and the war-torn country, he said.
The announcement comes as the Taliban and other militants step up attacks across the nation in an attempt to overthrow the government led by President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani, who took office in September. The violence has killed and wounded about 10,000 civilians this year, according to the United Nations.
“The 13-year Afghan war of NATO failed to completely root out the Taliban and other militants from the country,” Ahmad Saeed, a former Afghan diplomat to Pakistan, said Sunday by phone. “The increased violence could threaten to overthrow some more remote districts of the government as a few districts are already under control of Taliban.”
The Afghan government signed bilateral security agreements with the United States and NATO a day after Ghani’s Sept. 29 inauguration, allowing their troops to stay beyond this year. The Taliban responded by vowing to increase attacks on Afghanistan and international military and civilian organizations.
“These past 13 years have tested our nation and our military,” Obama said in the statement. “But compared to the nearly 180,000 American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan when I took office, we now have fewer than 15,000 in those countries. Some 90 percent of our troops are home.”
American soldiers will continue some counter-terrorism operations. About 13,500 international troops will stay in the nation starting next year, of which about 10,600 are Americans.