CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan The NATO coalition ended its formal mission in restive and dangerous Helmand province Sunday, handing over two major bases and an airstrip to the Afghan military as U.S. Marines and British forces prepare to withdraw.
The transfer of Camp Leatherneck and Camp Bastion, the hub for coalition forces in southwestern Afghanistan, is the most dramatic signal to date that the 13-year-old war is drawing to a close.
For now, British forces and U.S. Marines will continue to secure the perimeter of the adjoining bases while they await orders to withdraw completely. When they do, it will essentially mark the conclusion of the war in Afghanistan for the Marines and British forces, officials in both countries said.
This is truly a historic day, said U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, commander of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command. Years of continuous combat, countless hours of sunbaked patrols and numerous casualties this day marks the end of the [coalition] mission here in southwest.
British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon acknowledged that mistakes were made in Afghanistan by politicians and generals, comments that will add to the long-running debate in Britain about whether the mission was worth it.
Mistakes were made militarily, mistakes were made by the politicians at the time, and this goes back 10, 13 years, some time now, Fallon told the BBC on Sunday. But lets dont ignore what has been achieved.
Fallon said the majority of British troops would be home by Christmas.
Although about 34,000 coalition troops remain in Afghanistan, President Obama has pledged to cut that number in half by January. Under a security agreement that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani recently signed with the United States, Obama plans to keep 9,800 troops in Afghanistan next year.
About 3,000 troops from other nations are also expected to remain in Afghanistan to help train and support the Afghan army and police force.
Sundays ceremony means Afghan security forces now have full access to a sprawling military complex that includes more than 6,500 acres of desert land.
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NATO coalition hands over two major bases to Afghan military