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The “longest war in American history” has finally come to a close.

The 13-year war in Afghanistan formally ended with a flag-lowering ceremony in Kabul on Sunday and a statement issued by President Barack Obama, who is currently on vacation with his family in Hawaii.

“Thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, our combat mission in Afghanistan is ending, and the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion,” Obama said.

During the flag ceremony, which took place in front of a small, hand-picked audience at the headquarters of the NATO mission, U.S. Gen. John Campbell commemorated the 3,500 international soldiers killed during the bloody war. The green-and-white flag of the International Security Assistance Force was taken down — in its place the flag of the new international mission called Resolute Support now sits.

“Resolute Support will serve as the bedrock of an enduring partnership” between NATO and Afghanistan, Campbell told an audience of Afghan and international military officers and officials, as well as diplomats and journalists.

“The road before us remains challenging, but we will triumph,” Campbell added.

Beginning Jan. 1, the new mission will provide training and support for Afghanistan’s military, with the U.S. accounting for almost 11,000 of the 13,500 members of the residual force.

On Sunday, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid called the end of the war a “defeat ceremony,” adding that insurgents would continue to fight.

“Since the invasion in 2001 until now, these events have been aimed at changing public opinion, but we will fight until there is not one foreign soldier on Afghan soil and we have established an Islamic state,” he said.

That announcement has some Afghans skeptical about the huge change coming their way.

Afghans have mixed feelings about the drawdown of foreign troops. With the deteriorating security situation, many believe the troops are needed to back up the Afghan effort to bring peace after more than three decades of continual war.

“At least in the past 13 years we have seen improvements in our way of life — freedom of speech, democracy, the people generally better off financially,” said 42-year-old shop keeper Gul Mohammad.

But the soldiers are still needed “at least until our own forces are strong enough, while our economy strengthens, while our leaders try to form a government,” he said.

Officials, however, are confident Afghanistan’s security forces are prepared to combat insurgency without U.S. aid.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has said that Afghanistan’s 350,000-member security forces are ready to take on the insurgency alone, despite complaints by officials that they lack the necessary assets, such as air support, medical evacuation systems and intelligence.

On Sunday, he said that ISAF’s mandate was “carried out at great cost but with great success.”

“We have made our own nations safer by denying safe haven to international terrorists. We have made Afghanistan stronger by building up from scratch strong security forces. Together we have created the conditions for a better future for millions of Afghan men, women and children,” he said.

We’ll keep you updated with the latest.

SOURCE: NYT | VIDEO SOURCE: News Inc.

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