This is it. After more than 13 years and the death of around 3,500 foreign troops, including 2,224 American soldiers, the United States and NATO officially ended the war in Afghanistan on Sunday. It was a symbolic event that marked how Afghan forces will now be charged with battling the escalating Taliban insurgency. But of course, this is not the end of foreign presence in Afghanistan. Around 18,000 foreign troops, including some 10,600 Americans, will be staying in the country with a more narrow focus on counterterrorism and training Afghan soldiers under a new, 2-year mission named “Resolute Support,” notes the Wall Street Journal. It marks a sharp drawdown from a peak of 140,000 troops seen in 2010, when President Obama ordered a surge.
“We are not walking away,” International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Commander General John Campbell said after a flag-changing ceremony in Kabul, according to Bloomberg. A small audience at the headquarters of the NATO mission saw how the green-and-white flag of the ISAF was replaced with another one that was nearly identical for the Resolute Support mission. Mission “Resolute Support will serve as the bedrock of an enduring partnership” between NATO and the country, he added. Campbell also paid tribute to those who died fighting the insurgency. “The road before us remains challenging but we will triumph,” he said.
The ceremony marked the transition from a combat mission to a “noncombat mission in a combat environment” with a definition that “remains as unclear as Afghanistan’s future,” notes Stars & Stripes.
In a sign of the continuing strength of the Taliban insurgency, the base where the ceremony was held was on high alert Sunday amid fears of new attacks. “Nonresident staff was told to stay home, and facilities like shops and coffee bars were closed for the day,” notes the Wall Street Journal. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid characterized Sunday’s event as a “defeat ceremony,” reports the Associated Press. “We will fight until there is not one foreign soldier on Afghan soil and we have established an Islamic state,” he added.