President Barack Obama hailed the combat mission, saying that it "marks a milestone" for the United States and allied forces.
"For more than 13 years, ever since nearly 3,000 innocent lives were taken from us on 9/11, our nation has been at war in Afghanistan," Obama said in a written statement.
"Now, 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."
However, is it really coming to a responsible conclusion?
A brief look at the economic, social and political challenges Afghanistan faces right now tells the actual war is far from over.
Worsening Insurgent Violence
Unfortunately, even after a bloody battle of 13 years, NATO forces failed to exterminate extremists from Afghanistan.
In fact, the Taliban organization has never been stronger and their improvised explosive devices have claimed thousands of lives this year.
“According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan, IEDs are one of the chief reasons for civilian casualties in the country, which are set to hit 10,000 this year – the highest in any year since 2008 when the mission began to keep this record. A total of 3,188 civilians were killed and 6,429 injured in the first 11 months of 2014 m – an increase of 19 per cent on the same period a year before,” The Independent noted.
Since attempts to negotiate with Taliban in Qatar have constantly failed and even the release of dozens of Taliban prisoners hasn’t helped put an end to the terrorist attacks, insurgency remains one of the biggest challenges for Afghanistan.
Weak Armed Forces
After 10 years of fighting and some $62 billion of U.S. taxpayer money, it appears that the Afghan security forces are still not capable enough to protect their people. Terror attacks in the past year and the country’s failure to counter Taliban insurgency is proof of this fact.
The Afghan government, however, thinks it is ready.
“Our sons and daughters of ANSF (Afghan National Security Forces) are in the lead, fighting to protect security interests. God willing, they will prevail," national security advisor Mohmmad Hanif Atmar said at the ceremony on Sunday.
Here’s a question though: If Afghanistan really is prepared then why has a new U.S. mission been set up to train and send support for Afghanistan's military?
The presidential election in Afghanistan this year was not free from controversy and corruption.
Although President Ashraf Ghani and his opposition rival Abdullah Abdullah support the U.S.-brokered unity deal, some of Abdullah’s allies still believe Ghani's victory was a result of rigging and fraud.
Discord between the country’s ruling party and opposition is perhaps the last thing Afghanistan needs right now. To fight off terrorists – on their own – it’s imperative that top Afghan officials and authorities work together instead of against each other.
Earlier in December, the Special Inspector General For Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko said that much of $104 billion spent by the U.S. since the 2001 to fight terrorism risks being wasted "because the Afghans cannot sustain the investment without" continued donor support.
“In 2013 the war-torn country's annual revenue was only $2 billion, while its expenditure was $5.4 billion. The IMF expects the funding gap to remain at about $7.7 billion through 2018,” according to Sopko’s analysis.
This means that the economy of Afghanistan can’t really get back on its feet without financial support from developed countries.
Thriving Opium Trade
The U.S. spent around $7.6 billion to crush the Afghan opium trade and failed miserably. In fact, opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan is at record levels, according to SIGAR.
"The recent record-high level of poppy cultivation calls into question the long-term effectiveness and sustainability of [prior U.S. government and coalition] efforts," Sopko stated. "Given the severity of the opium problem and its potential to undermine U.S. objectives in Afghanistan, I strongly suggest that your departments consider the trends in opium cultivation and the effectiveness of past counternarcotics efforts when planning future initiatives."