U.S. Formally Ends Afghanistan War

Army leaving Afghanistan

Department of Defense photo by Sgt. Ken Scar, U.S. Army

U.S. Formally Ends Afghanistan War
| published December 29, 2014 |

By Thursday Review staff


Though American and coalition troops will remain in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future—and by some estimates U.S. troops will remain in-country for years—the longest war in U.S. history officially ended with a simple ceremony at the NATO command center in the capital city of Kabul on Sunday.

The war has lasted for 13 years and has taken the lives of at least 3521 coalition combatants—mostly Americans. The official number of Americans killed is 2224, though there are still some military personnel listed as missing.

The U.S. military operation—formally called “Enduring Freedom”—was renamed this past weekend “Resolute Support,” a moniker reflecting the optimistic view that American and allied troops can serve in a support role only through the next weeks, months and years. Coalition troops will continue to train and supply the Afghan army and security forces in a country still torn by war, and still racked by occasional violence between Taliban militants and Afghan and U.S. troops. The Taliban has recently ramped up some of its operations—including new violence against individuals and groups it deems loyal to the government in Kabul.

At the ceremony, the NATO operational flag was taken down and rolled up, and it was replaced with a new flag representative of the operation now known as Resolute Support. The ceremony, meant as a symbolic transition, will not change the number of American troops still serving in Afghanistan over the next months. According to the Pentagon, roughly 13,500 troops will remain in Afghanistan, 10,900 of which are Americans.

In Hawaii on vacation with the First Lady and his daughters, U.S. President Barack Obama praised the service of so many men and women in the long, costly Asian war.

“Thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our men and women in uniform,” Obama said in a statement to the press, “our mission in Afghanistan is ending, and the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion."

Military analysts are worried that Afghanistan could quickly deteriorate into the same chaos and sectarian quagmire which unfolded in Iraq during 2013-2014. There are ample signs that the Taliban will use a reduced U.S. and coalition involvement as an opportunity to begin deeper, more penetrative attacks against civilians and police in liberated areas of the country. The Taliban has also made no secret of its intention to move against government forces in Kabul and in other cities as soon as the last of the international coalition troops have left those areas.

President George W. Bush ordered the mission in Afghanistan be undertaken in the aftermath of al Qaeda attacks on the United States in September 2001. The 9/11 terrorists had direct links to al Qaeda and had implemented a plan approved and encouraged by Osama bin Laden. The long Afghan war began with the goal of toppling the Taliban regime in Kabul, an extremist-militant group which gave safe haven and patronage to al Qaeda, and allowed it to operate training and recruitment facilities on Afghan soil.

At the peak of the war in 2010, there were 140,000 coalition troops in Afghanistan. Although the international fighting coalition was made up of soldiers and support personnel from roughly 50 countries, the majority of the troops in forward positions were American. Some of the other countries involved in Enduring Freedom included Germany, Italy, Georgia, Jordan, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Poland, and Australia. Current deployment figures indicate that many of those same countries will remain involved, though in some cases their personnel numbers will be as few as a dozen or less.

In private, both American and Afghan commanders are concerned that Afghan troops and security forces will be unable to maintain the stability of the country, especially in the most volatile provinces, after a total withdrawal of NATO forces. And publicly, some Afghan leaders worry that a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces will spur the Taliban toward heavy military action and disruption, catapulting the largely tribal country into civil war.

“We need your help,” said Afghan national security advisor Mohammad Hanif Atmar at the NATO ceremony, “to build the systems necessary to ensure the long-term sustainability of the critical capabilities of our forces.” Some military analysts say that Atmar’s circuitous statement translates directly: Afgan forces cannot do this alone anytime soon.

Civilian casualties have risen in the last 18 months, and some fear that those numbers will increase even more in 2015 as U.S. and coalition troops take a backseat and leave security to the Afghan soldiers. The Taliban is known for its attacks on civilian locations, including schools and hospitals, and many of those who it militants kill are unarmed. The newly retooled Afghan army now totals about 350,000. And though it is not clear that Afghan troops will be able to maintain order and peace in some of the outlying provinces where the Taliban has large numbers of forces, most military analysts worry that the Afghan army will not be up to the task of battling Taliban militants if the terrorist army goes on the move in the same systematic way as ISIS did in Syria and northern Iraq.

The United States has spent approximately $1 trillion on the Afghan war, making it one of the most expensive military operations in history.

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A Senate Report Vs. The CIA; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; December 11, 2014.