AUCKLAND, Sept 21 The last of the 33,000 'surge'
troops ordered into Afghanistan by President Barack Obama in
2009 have withdrawn from the country, returning the American
presence to pre-surge levels, a senior U.S. defense official
said on Friday.
The surge in American troops was designed to push back the
Taliban and create space for NATO forces to build the Afghan
army to a point where it could take over Afghanistan's security,
allowing for an eventual Western drawdown.
The completion of the surge withdrawal had been expected by
the end of September. Obama has trumpeted ending the war in Iraq
and winding down the war in Afghanistan as he seeks re-election
on Nov. 6.
The return of U.S. forces to pre-surge levels comes as NATO
commanders wrestle with an upswing in "insider attacks" by
Afghan forces turning their guns on Western troops.
NATO announced this week it was scaling back some joint
operations with Afghan troops as a result, raising questions
about Obama's plan to stabilize the country ahead of the
expected withdrawal of most combat troops by the end of 2014.