The United States and NATO have formally ended the war in Afghanistan, the Associated Press reports, with a flag-folding ceremony. The U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force will transition to a supporting role in January.
The U.S. will provide more than 11,000 of the troops that are to remain after January 1. Their new mission will be to provide training and support of the Afghan military. The Taliban has claimed the continued presence of American and NATO troops as an excuse to continue their efforts to destabilize the Afghan government, the AP reports.
"We've been in continuous war now for over 13 years," President Barack Obama told troops on Christmas Day. "Next week we will be ending our combat mission in Afghanistan." He continued, "Because of the extraordinary service of the men and women in the armed forces, Afghanistan has a chance to rebuild its own country."
"This year is much worse than previous years," said Dr. Abdul Hamidi, a police colonel who is head of medical services for the national police in Helmand. "We've heard that the Quetta Shura has a big push to raise their flags over three districts by January, and has ordered their people to keep fighting until they do," he said, referring to the exiled Taliban leadership council in Pakistan.
A recent U.N. report found that 2014 has been the deadliest year for noncombatants in Afghanistan since 2009. Civilian casualties are expected to exceed 10,000 by the end of the year. NATO officials have said that Afghanistan's security force of 350,000 are prepared to handle the insurgency, which have suffered around 5,000 deaths so far—including some 3,200 policemen.
Photo credit: Associated Press