The US and NATO have ceremonially ended their combat mission in Afghanistan, 13 years after the September 11 attacks sparked their invasion of the country to topple the Taliban-led government.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, which was in charge of combat operations, lowered its flag on Monday, formally ending its deployment.
US General John F Campbell, commander of NATO and US forces, says the mission is transitioning to a training and support role. He says from January 1, the coalition will maintain a force of 13,000 troops in Afghanistan, down from a peak around 140,000 in 2011.
There are around 15,000 troops now in the country.
US President Barack Obama recently allowed US forces to launch operations against both Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters, broadening the mission of the US forces that will remain in the country after the end of the year.
The mission ends as the Taliban is increasing its attacks in Afghanistan, especially since President Ashraf Ghani was inaugurated as president.
Violence continued on Monday in the country, as suicide bombers launched an assault on a police station in southern Kandahar province. Police killed three suicide bombers, said Samim Akhplwak, the spokesman for the provincial
governor. He said casualty figures were unclear.
Campbell said that Afghan security forces, including the army, police and local armed groups, were capable of securing the country despite record-high casualty figures that have risen 6.5 percent this year, to 4,634 killed in action, compared to 4,350 in 2013.
Up to 10,800 US troops will remain in Afghanistan for the first three months of next year, 1,000 more than previously planned as the new mission, called Resolute Support, waits for NATO partners to deploy, said a NATO official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss troop deployments.
Monday’s ceremony was the first of two that will draw a formal close to NATO’s combat mission by December 28.