Last US surge troops leave Afghanistan
22 September, 2012
WASHINGTON: The last of the 33,000 US soldiers that US President Barack Obama sent to Afghanistan nearly three years ago as part of a military surge have left the country, US defence officials said on Thursday.
The withdrawal, which began in July, follows an unprecedented number of NATO soldiers being shot dead by their Afghan colleagues – 51 so far this year – and comes as anti-Western protests sweep Muslim countries.
There are still some 68,000 US military forces in Afghanistan, as well as some 40,000 from NATO's ISAF coalition.
The US-led effort to contain the Taliban insurgency involves a phased withdrawal of troops as newly trained Afghan forces take their place. The plan is for Afghans to take charge of their own security by the end of 2014. The temporary increase in troops helped Western-led forces regain ground in Afghanistan's south and southwest against the Taliban, which has now stepped up attacks in the eastern region bordering Pakistan.
US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said the surge had met its goals of reversing the Taliban's momentum and "dramatically" increasing the size and capability of Afghan security forces.
"At the same time, we have struck enormous blows against al Qaeda's leadership, consistent with our core goal of disrupting, dismantling and defeating al Qaeda and denying it a safe haven," he said in a statement.