AFGHANISTAN-UNREST-ISAF-NATO
U.S. Army General John Campbell salutes during a ceremony marking the end of the allied combat mission in Afghanistan at his headquarters in Kabul, Dec. 28, 2014. Shah Marai—AFP/Getty Images

U.S. Ends Its War in Afghanistan

Dec 28, 2014

The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan ended its combat mission Sunday, marking the formal—if not real—end to the longest war in American history.

American warplanes began bombing the country on Oct. 7, 2001, less than a month after the 9/11 attacks. Their goal was to drive the ruling Taliban from power, after they had given sanctuary inside the country to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, which had plotted the terror strikes.

That was accomplished on Nov. 13, 2001.

The U.S. and its allies have remained since then, trying to build up Afghan military and police forces sufficient to defend their country without outside help. Despite Sunday's bowing out, the U.S. will remain involved in Afghanistan's fight against the Taliban for years to come.

"In the wake of the Taliban’s defeat in 2001, Afghanistan possessed no standing, professional security forces," Army General John Campbell, chief of the International Security Assistance Force, said. "Over the course of a decade, our Afghan partners and we have built a highly capable Afghan army and police force of over 350,000 personnel."

See the U.S. Military's Last Days of Combat in Afghanistan

A U.S. soldier waits for a CH-47 Chinook helicopter from the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade to land after an advising mission at the Afghan National Army headquarters for the 203rd Corps in the Paktia province of Afghanistan
A U.S. soldier from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment waits for a CH-47 Chinook helicopter after an advising mission at the Afghan National Army headquarters for the 203rd Corps in the Paktia province of Afghanistan on Dec. 21, 2014.Lucas Jackson—Reuters
A U.S. soldier waits for a CH-47 Chinook helicopter from the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade to land after an advising mission at the Afghan National Army headquarters for the 203rd Corps in the Paktia province of Afghanistan
U.S. soldiers from 3rd Cavalry Regiment flag a car to stop to be screened for explosives near forward operating base Gamberi in the Laghman province of Afghanistan
A crew member climbs into a U.S. Blackhawk helicopter before it takes off following a mission to take Brigadier General Christopher Bentley to inspect an Afghan National police installation in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan
A U.S. soldier from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment is watched as he fires a squad automatic weapon during a training mission near forward operating base Gamberi, in the Laghman province of Afghanistan
U.S. soldiers in Dragon Company of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment watch rounds explode downrange during a mortar exercise near forward operating base Gamberi in the Laghman province of Afghanistan
A U.S. soldier from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment uses the optic on his rifle to observe Afghans in the distance, near forward operating base Gamberi, in the Laghman province of Afghanistan
U.S. soldiers from 3rd Cavalry Regiment interact with men selected to be biometrically screened near forward operating base Gamberi in the Laghman province of Afghanistan
Humvees for the Afghan National Army are lined up waiting for parts to be repaired at the Afghan National Army headquarters for the 203rd Corps in the Paktia province of Afghanistan
U.S. soldiers from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment take part in a Christmas Eve celebration with soldiers from the Polish army's 21st Mountain Brigade on forward operating base Gamberi in the Laghman province of Afghanistan
U.S. soldier from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment relaxes in his quarters after taking part in a mortar exercise on forward operating base Gamberi in the Laghman province of Afghanistan
U.S. soldiers play volleyball at forward operating base Fenty in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan
U.S. soldiers from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment wait in line to get food during a Christmas day lunch at forward operating base Gamberi in the Laghman province of Afghanistan
U.S. soldiers from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment greet their Afghan police counterparts during an advising mission to an Afghan police station constructed by ISAF near Jalalabad
U.S. soldiers from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment fire a 120mm mortar during an exercise on forward operating base Gamberi in the Laghman province of Afghanistan
U.S. soldiers from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment listen to a translation of an advising meeting at an Afghan National Army base near forward operating base Gamberi in the Laghman province of Afghanistan
A U.S. soldier from Grim Company of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment sits in an MRAP vehicle as he prepares for an early morning mission at Forward Operating Base Fenty in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan
A mortar flies out of a tube during a mortar exercise for U.S. soldiers in Dragon Company of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment near forward operating base Gamberi in the Laghman province of Afghanistan
Lieutenant McDonald prepares a platoon of U.S. soldiers from Grim Company of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment at Forward Operating Base Fenty in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan
U.S. soldiers from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment watch "Die Hard" projected onto an outdoor wall as part of Christmas Day celebrations on forward operating base Gamberi in the Laghman province of Afghanistan
REUTERS PICTURE HIGHLIGHT
U.S. soldiers from Grim Company of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment walk down the street near an Afghan police checkpoint during a mission near Forward Operating Base Fenty in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan
A U.S. soldier from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment walks through an Afghan police station constructed by ISAF near Jalalabad
U.S. soldiers from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment prepare for a mission at Forward Operating Base Fenty in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan
U.S. soldiers from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment load into a CH-47 Chinook helicopter for an advising mission to an Afghan National Army base at forward operating base Fenty in the Nangarhar province of Afghanistan
A U.S. soldier carries a backpack to a shipping container during preparations for leaving Afghanistan
A U.S. soldier from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment waits for a CH-47 Chinook helicopter after an advising mission at the Afgha
... VIEW MORE

Lucas Jackson—Reuters
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Sunday marked the formal handoff to that largely U.S.-trained Afghan military. "The road before us remains challenging, but we will triumph," Campbell told a small gathering at ISAF headquarters.

“For more than 13 years, ever since nearly 3,000 innocent lives were taken from us on 9/11, our nation has been at war in Afghanistan,” President Obama said in a statement. “Now, 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 new, slimmed-down allied mission, Campbell said, will be called Operation Resolute Support. Back in Washington, the Pentagon said its piece of the new mission will be called Operation Freedom's Sentinel.

"We will work with our allies and partners as part of NATO's Resolute Support mission to continue training, advising, and assisting Afghan security forces," outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said. "And we will continue our counterterrorism mission against the remnants of al Qaeda to ensure that Afghanistan is never again used to stage attacks against our homeland."

The number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, which peaked at about 100,000 in 2010, will fall to 10,800 in January, aimed at helping the Afghan government hold on to power, even as Taliban units occupy territory increasingly close to the capital. Nearly 1 million U.S. troops pulled at least one tour in Afghanistan.

Yet during 2002 and 2003, the average number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan never topped 10,400. That means the U.S. forces left in country following the war will top the number fighting there during its first two years.

A total of 3,485 allied troops died in Afghanistan over the past 13 years, including 2,356 Americans. The war cost U.S. taxpayers, past, present and future, about $1 trillion.

“We will never forget your sons and daughters who have died on our soil," Afghan National Security Adviser Mohammad Hanif Atmar said at the flag-lowering ceremony Sunday. "They are now our sons and daughters."

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