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U.S., NATO Ceremonially End Afghan Combat Mission

File photo of US soldiers as they hand over their military base to Afghan National Army in the northern Baghlan province in July.
File photo of US soldiers as they hand over their military base to Afghan National Army in the northern Baghlan province in July.

The United States and NATO have ceremonially ended their combat mission in Afghanistan more than 13 years after toppling the Taliban regime.

NATO's International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, which led combat operations in Afghanistan, lowered its flag in Kabul on December 8 -- formally ending its deployment.

U.S. General John Campbell, commander of NATO and U.S. forces, said a new mission called Resolute Support will focus primarily on training and supporting Afghan forces starting January 1.

Afghan lawmakers last month approved a mandate allowing the U.S.-led mission to take part in combat operations against Taliban fighters, Al-Qaeda, and other militants on Afghan soil during 2015.

There are about 12,500 foreign troops in the new force, down from a peak of about 140,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan during 2011.

A majority of the troops in Resolute Support are from the U.S. military.

The Pentagon's outgoing chief, Chuck Hagel, told U.S. troops at a base in eastern Afghanistan on December 7 that their mission was not finished as they shift to their scaled-back role that is primarily to train Afghan security forces.

Speaking at the Gamberi Base near Jalalabad, Hagel said it was crucial the United States and its partners ensure progress does not get reversed as NATO withdraws most of its troops during the final weeks of 2014.

"We don't want to see that tremendous progress that's been accomplished...we don't want to see that roll back downhill," Hagel said.

Even as NATO and the United States were handing over responsibility for security operations to Afghan government forces on December 8, Taliban fighters continued attacks across the country.

In the southern province of Kandahar on December 8, at least five Taliban fighters were killed in an attack on a district police chief's office that included a suicide bomber.

Samim Khepolwak, a spokesman for the provincial government, said the attack began when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives at the entrance gate of the police compound in the Maywand district.

Four other attackers were killed in a gunbattle while trying to storm through the gate.

Four civilians and one police officer were also killed in the battle, which lasted about two hours.

There has also been an increase in Taliban attacks recently against security forces and civilian targets in Kabul.

Some 3,500 foreign troops, including at least 2,210 U.S. military personnel, have been killed since the first U.S. troops invaded Afghanistan following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, AFP, and dpa