Departing U.S. defense chief Chuck Hagel has told the remaining American troops in Afghanistan that they still have challenges to meet, even as their mission soon will shift from fighting Taliban insurgents to training Afghan troops.
Hagel, who recently announced his resignation, made a final stop in Afghanistan Sunday, telling U.S. troops at a base near the eastern city of Jalalabad that "the job's not over." He said the U.S. does not "want to see that the tremendous progress that's been accomplished" during 13 years of fighting in Afghanistan "roll back downhill."
The U.S. invaded Afghanistan in October 2001 to overthrow the Taliban regime that harbored al-Qaida fighters responsible for the terrorist attacks on the U.S. a month before.
The U.S. and its NATO partners are withdrawing most of their troops from Afghanistan by year-end, leaving 12,500 American military personnel to train their Afghan counterparts. At the peak involvement four years ago, about 130,000 NATO troops were deployed there.
Hagel said that ultimately no matter what the extent of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq is, people in both countries must take responsibility for their fate.
"Our role is different in Iraq as it is here. In the end, each country must take the responsibility for their own futures and for their own fate and for governing themselves," said Hagel, who had been at the helm of the U.S. Defense Department since February 2013.
President Barack Obama has nominated Pentagon veteran Ashton Carter to succeed Hagel.