U.S. Army troops from C-Company 1st platoon, 1-23 infantry prepare to deploy 'A-pops' - charges fired by rocket onto surfaces suspected to have IED (improvised explosive devices) traps which explode and trigger the safe detonation of the devices at the village of Gerandai in Panjway district, Kandahar Province on September 21, 2012. (TONY KARUMBA/AFP/GettyImages)
WASHINGTON -- Very quietly, the surge of troops into Afghanistan that President Obama announced to such fanfare in late 2009 is now over.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Friday that 33,000 troops have been withdrawn, calling the Afghan surge "a very important milestone" in a war the Obama administration is winding down; there are sill 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The "surge did accomplish its objectives of reversing the Taliban momentum on the battlefield and dramatically increase the size and capability of the Afghan national security forces," Panetta said.
The U.S. and its allies plan to turn over all security responsibilities to the Afghans in 2014.
Panetta made his announcement while on a trip to New Zealand.
President Obama has not yet commented specifically on the end of the surge but told a fundraiser last night: "I said we would begin winding down our commitments in Afghanistan and make sure that Afghans are taking responsibility for their own security, and that process has begun."
From the Associated Press:
"The withdrawal, which leaves 68,000 American forces in the war zone, 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.
The 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."