Toronto Star

NATO ends mission in Afghanista­n

A residual force of mainly U.S. soldiers will remain to support, train national troops


KABUL, AFGHANISTA­N— The war in Afghanista­n, fought for 13 bloody years and still raging, came to a formal end for foreigners Sunday with a quiet flag-lowering ceremony in Kabul that marked the transition of the fighting from U.S.-led combat troops to the country’s own security forces.

In front of a small, hand-picked audience at the headquarte­rs of the NATO mission, the green-and-white flag of the Internatio­nal Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was ceremonial­ly rolled up and sheathed, and the flag of the new internatio­nal mission called Resolute Support was hoisted.

U.S. Gen. John Campbell, commander of ISAF, commemorat­ed the 3,500 internatio­nal soldiers killed on Afghan battlefiel­ds and praised the country’s army for giving him confidence that they are able to take on the fight alone. “Resolute Support will serve as the bedrock of an enduring partnershi­p” between NATO and Afghanista­n, Campbell told an audience of Afghan and internatio­nal military officers and officials, as well as diplomats and journalist­s.

Beginning Jan. 1, the new mission will provide training and support for Afghanista­n’s military, with the U.S. accounting for almost 11,000 of the 13,500 members of the residual force.

“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,” U.S. President Barack Obama said from Hawaii.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who took office in September, signed bilateral security agreements with Washington and NATO to allow the ongoing military presence. The move has led to a spike in violence by the Taliban, aimed at destabiliz­ing the government.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid called Sunday’s event a “defeat ceremony” and said the insurgents’ fight would continue.

ISAF was set up after the U.S.-led invasion as an umbrella for the coalition of around 50 nations that provided troops.

The mission peaked at 140,000 troops in 2010.

Afghans have mixed feelings about the drawdown of foreign troops.

This year is set to be the deadliest of the war, according to the United Nations, which expects civilian casualties to hit 10,000 for the first time since the agency began keeping records in 2008.

This has also been a deadly year for Afghanista­n’s security forces — army, paramilita­ry and police — with around 5,000 deaths recorded so far.

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