AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) — The 33,000 additional U.S. troops that President Barack Obama ordered to Afghanistan to tamp down the Taliban attacks nearly two years ago have now left the country, but a new wave of deadly insider attacks and a reassessment of how NATO troops partner with Afghans have raised questions about how well the military strategy is working.
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced on Friday the troops had come out, declaring the surge had accomplished its mission.
But after a tumultuous week in Afghanistan that saw commanders put limits on when NATO and Afghan troops can patrol together, Panetta also acknowledged there will still be difficult days ahead.
"The surge did accomplish it objectives of reversing the Taliban momentum on the battlefield and dramatically increasing the size and capability of the Afghan national security forces," Panetta told reporters at a press conference at the Government House here where he was meeting with New Zealand leaders.
He said the re-deployment of the 33,000 troops was a "very important milestone" and that the U.S. is on track to accomplish its goals in Afghanistan. The withdrawal, which was completed on schedule, still leaves close to 100,000 NATO troops there, including 68,000 Americans.
Panetta's success mantra, however, is called into question by the decision earlier this week that, at least temporarily, NATO operations with small-sized Afghan units are no longer routine, and will require the approval of the regional commander.
Until now, coalition troops routinely conducted operations such as patrolling or manning outposts with small units of their Afghan counterparts. But a growing wave of in so-called insider attacks in which Afghan Army and police troops, or insurgents dressed in their uniforms, have been turning their guns on U.S. and NATO forces, has shaken the trust between the allied troops and the Afghans they are there to train.
And it's called into question the core strategy that relies on NATO troops working shoulder to shoulder with Afghans, training them to take over the security of their own country so the U.S. and its allies can leave at the end of 2014 as planned.
As of this week 51 coalition troops have been killed in such attacks this year.
Australian Brig. Gen. Roger Noble, deputy to the alliance's operations chief, acknowledged earlier this week that the attacks are rattling the troops.
"It strikes right at the heart of our resolve," he said. "It's one thing to be killed in action by the insurgents. It's quite another to be shot in the back of the head at night by your friends."
Panetta, however, has rejected suggestions that the strategy is failing, and on Friday he said "we have turned the corner," in Afghanistan and have successfully been able to build up the Afghan security forces so they can take the lead in security for large sections of the country.
Panetta said the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, "is saying that the force he has put in place is sufficient to accomplish that mission."
The number of U.S. forces there peaked at about 101,000 last year, and they have been coming out slowly over the past several months.
The surge was aimed at beating back the Taliban to give the Afghan government and its security forces the time and space to take hold. The key goal was to ensure the Taliban did not regain a foothold in the country that could allow it once again to become a safe haven for terror groups. And there was hope that Taliban leaders would be willing to come to the peace table.
Military commanders say they have made broad gains against the Taliban, wresting control of areas where the insurgents once had strong footholds. And Panetta has characterized the insider attacks as the last gasp of a desperate insurgency.
But other top military leaders, including U.S. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are worried about the impact of the attacks on the troops. Dempsey called them a "very serious threat" to the war campaign and has declared that "something has to change."
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
The Veteran Beer Company, a company employing solely veterans, is bringing its craft beers to Fort Wayne.
Fort Wayne officials are attributing the rise in violent crime to gangs. NewsChannel 15 spoke with a former LAPD officer about the Summit City's crime problem.
Employees at some Indianapolis fast food restaurants took part in a 100-city strike Thursday morning.
According to police, the callers in this phone scam target elderly people. The caller pretends to be the victim's grandson and says he is in trouble and needs money wired.
A bank robbery in Hoagland led to a high-speed car chase and ended with the apprehension of three people.
Police arrested a woman after she pulled a gun out on a Walmart employee and beat her with it. She told police she left the store without paying for several items because the employee was "treating her like a shoplifter."
An officer accused of coercing a drunk woman to have sex with him while she was in his custody during OWI patrol now faces felony rape charges as well as the sexual misconduct charges he was arrested for in September.
The Fort Wayne GM plant is one of two company facilities that have been chosen for a multi-million dollar investment by the automaker to turn gas generated from landfills into electricity.
Allen County Sheriff Ken Fries plans to run for the District 15 Indiana State Senate seat, which has been held by Republican Tom Wyss since 1985. Wyss announced earlier in the year he would not be seeking re-election.
From December 20 through Christmas Eve, Kohl's stores will remain open for more than 100 hours straight.
Some legal experts see potential problems with a prosecutor's proposal to hold a single trial before separate juries for the three people charged with causing a deadly explosion that devastated an Indianapolis neighborhood.
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence will seek to expand the nation's broadest school voucher program to disadvantaged preschool-age children and increase access to charter schools in his second year as governor.
The 2013 homicide total in Allen County of 44 has tied the all-time record set in 1997 with the year not yet over. Paul Helmke, who was Fort Wayne's mayor in 1997, said it got so bad that he began taking the violence as a personal attack.
Greater Fort Wayne Inc. showed off its new home on Wednesday.
The Allen County Juvenile Center has signed a new food service contract that could save taxpayers as much as $50,000 a year.