Obama praises troops as US marks end of war in Afghanistan

Obama praises troops as US marks end of war in AfghanistanWASHINGTON: The longest war in American history has come to a “responsible conclusion” with the withdrawal US and NATO combat forces from Afghanistan, US President Barack Obama has said but warned that the country remains “a dangerous place”.

NATO’s war in Afghanistan, fought for 13 years, came to a formal end yesterday with a flag-lowering ceremony in Kabul that marked the transition of the fighting from US-led combat troops to the country’s own security forces.

In the 13 years since US forces landed in Kabul post 9/11 to throw out Taliban out of power, some 2,200 US troops lost their lives in the war against terror in Afghanistan.

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

During these 13 years, Obama said, US troops have “devastated the core of Al-Qaeda leadership, delivering justice to Osama bin Laden, disrupting terrorist plots and saving countless American lives.”

Thanking the troops and intelligence workers who served in Afghanistan, he said, “We are safer, and our nation is more secure, because of their service.”

From January 1, the US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) combat mission, will be replaced by a NATO “training and support” mission.

“We are safer, and our nation is more secure, because of their service. At the same time, our courageous military and diplomatic personnel in Afghanistan – along with our NATO allies and coalition partners – have helped the Afghan people reclaim their communities, take the lead for their own security, hold historic elections and complete the first democratic transfer of power in their country’s history,” he said.

Obama, however, warned that Afghanistan remains a dangerous place, and the Afghan people and their security forces continue to make tremendous sacrifices in defense of their country.

“At the invitation of the Afghan government, and to preserve the gains we have made together, the US along with our allies and partners will maintain a limited military presence in Afghanistan to train, advice and assist Afghan forces and to conduct counter terrorism operations against the remnants of Al-Qaeda,” he said.

“Our personnel will continue to face risks, but this reflects the enduring commitment of the US to the Afghan people and to a united, secure and sovereign Afghanistan that is never again used as a source of attacks against our nation,” said the US President.

Under a bilateral agreement with Kabul, about 12,500 foreign troops will remain in Afghanistan. They will not be involved in direct fighting, but will assist the Afghan army and police in their battle against the Taliban, who ruled from 1996 until 2001. Obama said the past 13 years of conflict in Afghanistan have tested the US military.

“But compared to the nearly 180,000 American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan when I took office, we now have fewer than 15,000 in those countries. Some 90 per cent of our troops are home,” he said.

“Our military remains the finest in the world, and we will remain vigilant against terrorist attacks and in defense of the freedoms and values we hold dear.

And with growing prosperity here at home, we enter a new year with new confidence, indebted to our fellow Americans in uniform who keep us safe and free,” Obama said.

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said under Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, the US will pursue two missions with the support of the Afghan government and the Afghan people.

“We will work with our allies and partners as part of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission to continue training, advising, and assisting Afghan security forces.

And we will continue our counterterrorism mission against the remnants of Al-Qaeda to ensure that Afghanistan is never again used to stage attacks against our homeland,” he said.

Hagel said that the United States remains strongly committed to a sovereign, secure, stable, and unified Afghanistan.

“And through enduring security cooperation, we will continue assisting the Afghan government to build its capacity and self-sufficiency, as we transition to the next phase of the US-Afghanistan defense relationship.

“We will continue to work with our Afghan partners to secure the great progress we have made since 2001 and to seize this defining moment of opportunity for Afghanistan’s future,” US Defense Secretary said.–PTI

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