US troop numbers in Afghanistan today returned to their pre-2009 “surge” figures with the departure of the last of the extra 33,000 troops ordered in by President Barack Obama.
The surge had been designed to push back a revived Taliban and create space for NATO and ISAF troops to build up the Afghan army and realise development projects.
Three years on and US toop numbers are well below their peak, and the Afghan army is now some 300,000 strong.
However worries remain about their effectiveness in combat, and their loyalty to President Karzai and the government. A recent upsurge in so- called “loyalist” attacks, where uniformed Afghan security force members have attacked NATO colleagues, is also a major concern, impacting on deployment and joint operations.
These are already being scaled back. It may be a long and nervous retreat ahead of the end-2014 final pullout date.