Thirteen years and more than 2,000 American casualties after it began, the war in Afghanistan will conclude responsibly, President Barack Obama said on Sunday.
In a written statement marking the formal end of U.S. combat there, Obama said the remaining 10,000 or so American troops in Afghanistan would still face danger but that the longest U.S. war ever was now history.
“Our personnel will continue to face risks, but this reflects the enduring commitment of the United States 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,” Obama said.
American troops went to fight in Afghanistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and the U.S. spent more than $1 trillion dollars there and lost upwards of 2,200 servicemen and women.
Obama vowed to wind the Afghan war down when he took office, eventually announcing this year he would reduce the number of troops stationed there to about 10,000 — a massive reduction from the nearly 150,000 who once served.
In a ceremony in Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul on Sunday, the commander of the International Security Assistance Force officially marked the end of coalition combat in Afghanistan by rolling up the ISAF flag.
The city has suffered an uptick in Taliban violence as the drawdown date approached, though U.S. officials maintain the country is far better off now than when the U.S. began its mission 13 years ago.
“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,” Obama said.
The President has spent much of last year marking the withdrawal of combat troops in Afghanistan, from his announcement in May that U.S. combat troops would leave the country by January 2015, to an appearance at Fort Dix earlier this month acknowledging persistent security challenges there.
“Afghanistan is still a very dangerous place,” Obama said at the New Jersey base. “But I want you, and every American who has served in Afghanistan, to be proud of what you’ve accomplished there.”
Currently on vacation with his family in Hawaii, the President used a Christmas address to Marines stationed on Oahu to hail the achievements of the U.S. military in Afghanistan, asserting the U.S. is safer because of the effort there.
Afghanistan is “not going to be a source of terrorist attacks again,” he said at the Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay.
Other U.S. officials — including Vice President Joe Biden and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel — have also marked the end of the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan. Hagel said Sunday the work of U.S. troops has “made our world safer and given Afghanistan the opportunity to chart a secure, democratic, and prosperous future.”
Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican, visited Kabul on Christmas to meet with Afghanistan’s new president.