Yesterday, the International Security Assistance Force was folded away into history as the combat mission in Afghanistan officially came to an end. After more than 13 years, the day-to-day combat operations have now been handed over to Afghan security forces.
The new international mission, dubbed “Resolute Support,” will provide training and support for Afghanistan’s military, and require the continued service of 11,000 American troops; considering the total force caps off at 13,500, the American contribution will not be insignificant. In addition to providing more training, American forces are also authorized to assist in counterterrorism operations, which means that we’ll be providing air and ground support to Afghan troops for at least the next two years.
President Obama took a break from his vacation to send along a congratulatory statement to the coalition forces in Afghanistan, saying that, “[w]e are safer, and our nation is more secure, because of their service.”
But many in Afghanistan worry about what the change in mission will do to the already tenuous control Afghan troops hold over the country’s security:
Afghans have mixed feelings about the drawdown of foreign troops. With the deteriorating security situation, many believe the troops are needed to back up the Afghan effort to bring peace after more than three decades of continual war.
“At least in the past 13 years we have seen improvements in our way of life — freedom of speech, democracy, the people generally better off financially,” said 42-year-old shop keeper Gul Mohammad.
But the soldiers are still needed “at least until our own forces are strong enough, while our economy strengthens, while our leaders try to form a government,” he said.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said that Afghanistan’s 350,000-member security forces are ready to take on the insurgency alone, despite complaints by officials that they lack the necessary assets, such as air support, medical evacuation systems and intelligence.
On Sunday, he said that ISAF’s mandate was “carried out at great cost but with great success.”
The Taliban waged a bloody internal power struggle this year, but still managed to make it one of the deadliest for both Afghan and American security forces. Attacks amped up following a coalition troop surge aimed at rooting out insurgents holed up in strategic locations, and Taliban leadership has vowed to increase casualties until they are able to establish an Islamic State.
According to Politifact, President Obama first promised back in 2012 to end the war in Afghanistan by the end of this year.
Operation Enduring Freedom may have a new name, but at the end of the day, American lives will still be in jeopardy as they organize forces against an increasingly hostile and radical insurgency.
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