AUCKLAND, New Zealand -- Nearly two
years after President Barack Obama ordered 33,000 more U.S. troops to
Afghanistan to tamp down the escalating Taliban violence, the last of
those surge troops have left the country, U.S. officials said Thursday.
withdrawal, which leaves 68,000 American forces in the warzone, comes
as the security transition to Afghan forces is in trouble, threatened by
a spike in so-called insider attacks in which Afghan Army and police
troops, or insurgents dressed in their uniforms, have been attacking and
killing U.S. and NATO forces.
And it's called
into question the core strategy that relies on NATO troops working
shoulder to shoulder with Afghans, training them to take over the
security of their own country so the U.S. and its allies can leave at
the end of 2014 as planned.
The number of U.S.
forces there peaked at about 101,000 last year, and they have been
coming out slowly over the past several months.
surge was aimed at beating back the Taliban to give the Afghan
government and its security forces the time and space to take hold. The
key goal was to ensure that the Taliban did not regain a foothold in the
country that could allow it once again to become a safe haven for
terror groups. And there was hope that Taliban members would be willing
to come to the peace table.
commanders say the war strategy is on track and that they have made
broad gains against the Taliban, wresting control of areas where the
insurgents once had strong footholds. And U.S. Defense Secretary Leon
Panetta has characterized the insider attacks as the last gasp of a
But other top military
leaders, including U.S. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, are worried about the impact of the attacks on the
troops. Dempsey called them a "very serious threat" to the war campaign
and has declared that "something has to change."