Pentagon: Last of Surge Troops Out of Afghanistan

Posted September 21st, 2012 at 12:55 am (UTC-5)
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The Pentagon says the last of the 33,000 troops sent to Afghanistan in what was called the “surge” more than two years ago have pulled out.

U.S. troops levels in Afghanistan are now back down to 68,000 — the pre-surge number.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Friday the drawdown of troops was “done on schedule” and provided an opportunity to recognize that the surge “did accomplish its objectives” of reversing Taliban momentum and building up the Afghan force. He made the comments during a joint news briefing in Auckland with New Zealand's defense minister.

President Barack Obama ordered the extra forces to Afghanistan in late 2009 to push back insurgents and give Afghan forces a chance to start taking over security. The United States plans to completely withdraw its combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

The developments came as Secretary Panetta continued Asia trip. In New Zealand, he is seeking to revive long-suspended defense ties with the island country.

The United States would like to reassert its influence throughout the Asia-Pacific region as China continues to emerge as a military and economic powerhouse.

Panetta arrived in New Zealand after concluding a three-day visit to China, where he was given a rare tour of a Chinese naval base, and was allowed to board a warship and a submarine.