The remaining contingent of 33,000 of US military troops ordered to Afghanistan in 2009 by President Barack Obama as part of a “surge” force have departed from the war-torn country.
Announcing the troop withdrawal on Friday, US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told reporters traveling with him during his week-long tour of the Asia-Pacific region that the number of American troops in Afghanistan has been reduced to 68,000, marking the conclusion of a critical period of Obama’s war strategy in the troubled country, the Washington Post
The development comes as US-led forces in Afghanistan continue to face strong resistance by local Afghan militants and struggle to contain persisting insider attacks in which Afghan police officers and soldiers point their weapons at their trainers from the US and other occupying NATO countries.
Such insider attacks have reportedly disrupted joint operations, undermining a supposed US-led plan to hand over security tasks and authority to Afghan military and police forces.
“There’s no question there will continue to be difficult days ahead in this [war] campaign,” Panetta said at a news conference in New Zealand capital of Auckland, where he is visiting in part to praise the country for its contribution of nearly 180 soldiers to the US-led forces in Afghanistan.
Additionally, says the report, US and NATO commanders announced this week their intent to sharply reduce their joint patrols and training operations due to their inability to avert the growing instances of insider attacks against them by uniformed Afghan forces.
The announcement challenges what the US has boasted as the principal part of its military strategy in Afghanistan.
Violence in Afghanistan has been on the rise in recent months despite the presence of thousands of US-led foreign forces in the war-weary country.
The US-led military invasion of Afghanistan began in 2001 as part of Washington’s so-called war on terror. The offensive removed the Taliban from power, but insecurity and civilian displacement continues to climb across the country despite the presence of tens of thousands of foreign forces.
Additionally, the United Nations announced in February that 2011 was the deadliest year on record for Afghan civilians. The death toll rose eight percent compared to the year before and was roughly double the figure for 2007.
Overall, 3,021 civilians died in violence related to the war and 4,507 were injured in 2011.