After 13 Years, the War in Afghanistan Is Officially Over

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The news: More than 13 years after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, British troops on Sunday ended their combat operations in the country, effectively ending the Western forces' long and costly war against the Taliban.

"We gave them the maps to the place. We gave them the keys," Col. Doug Patterson, a Marine brigade commander in charge of logistics told Reuters.

The departure of the American and British forces represent the largest withdrawal of troops. The last foreign combat troops will leave the country by the end of the year.

"It is with pride that we announce the end of UK combat operations in Helmand, having given Afghanistan the best possible chance of a stable future," Patterson added.

Background: The base is "eerily empty," Lt. Will Davis, of the Queen's Dragoon Guards in the British Army told Reuters. Britain's Camp Bastion and the adjacent U.S. Camp Leatherneck formed the NATO coalition's regional headquarters, supporting and housing up to 40,000 military personnel and civilian contractors. But on Sunday, "the base resembled a dust-swept ghost town of concrete blast walls, empty barracks and razor wire," Reuters reported.

Throughout the invasion, an estimated 2,210 American soldiers and 453 British soldiers were killed in a war sparked by the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. An American-led coalition targeted the Taliban government for supporting al Qaeda and militant groups linked to the attacks.

U.S. marines stand by as American and British troops prepare to withdraw from Camp Bastion on October 26, 2014.Source: WAKIL KOHSAR/Getty Images
U.S. marines stand by as American and British troops prepare to withdraw from Camp Bastion on October 26, 2014.  WAKIL KOHSAR/Getty Images

What it means: Some analysts argue that Afghan forces are unprepared to manage the massive handover, leaving them vulnerable to the increasingly powerful Taliban. The Taliban insurgency has already killed or wounded nearly 5,000 Afghanis in the first half of 2014, the United Nations reported. Because of the coalitions' withdrawal, civilian casualties may reach an all-time high this year.

The Afghan military will inherit $230 million worth of property and equipment including a major airstrip and infrastructure. A small international contingent will continue to provide intelligence and air support throughout the year to keep the Taliban at bay.

What happens now? During Sunday's ceremony at U.S. Camp Leatherneck and Britain's Camp Bastion, American and British troops lowered and folded away the American and British flags for the last time. Several Afghans expressed pride at the transitioning of the base from coalition to Afghan control, mixed with sadness that the international effort to weaken the Taliban has reached a final drawdown.

"I'm cautiously optimistic they will be able to sustain themselves," Brig. Gen Daniel Yoo, the commander of Regional Command, told Reuters. "They've got to want it more than we do."