Obama praises troops as US war in Afghanistan ends
The longest war in American history has come to a "responsible conclusion" with the withdrawal US and NATO combat forces from Afghanistan, US President Barack Obama has said but warned that the country remains "a dangerous place".
NATO's war in Afghanistan came to a formal end on Sunday with a flag-lowering ceremony in Kabul that marked the transition of the fighting from US-led combat troops to the country's own security forces.
In the 13 years since US forces landed in Kabul post 9/11 to throw out Taliban out of power, some 2,200 US troops lost their lives in the war against terror in Afghanistan.
"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," Obama said on Sunday in a statement. During these 13 years, Obama said, US troops have "devastated the core of al-Qaeda leadership, delivering justice to Osama bin Laden, disrupting terrorist plots and saving countless American lives."
From January 1, the US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) combat mission, will be replaced by a NATO "training and support" mission.
"At the invitation of the Afghan government, and to preserve the gains we have made together, the US along with our allies and partners will maintain a limited military presence in Afghanistan to train, advise and assist Afghan forces and to conduct counter terrorism operations against the remnants of al-Qaeda," Obama said.
Under a bilateral agreement with Kabul, about 12,500 foreign troops will remain in Afghanistan. They will not be involved in direct fighting, but will assist the Afghan army and police in their battle against the Taliban, who ruled from 1996 until 2001.
Though, "Our personnel will continue to face risks, but this reflects the enduring commitment of the US to the Afghan people and to a united, secure and sovereign Afghanistan that is never again used as a source of attacks against our nation," the president said. Obama said the past 13 years of conflict in Afghanistan have tested the US military. "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 per cent of our troops are home," he said.
US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel said, “We will work with our allies as part of Resolute Support Mission to continue training, advising, and assisting Afghan security forces. And we will continue assisting the Afghan government to build its self-sufficiency.”