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NATO Lowers Flag at Afghanistan Combat Command Center

The International Security Assistance Forces band plays during flag-lowering ceremony in Kabul as NATO forces ceremonially end their 13 year combat mission in Afghanistan, Dec. 8, 2014.

NATO lowered the flag on its combat command center in Afghanistan Monday, as the alliance winds down a 13-year mission against the Taliban and al-Qaida.

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.

But even as NATO's International Security Assistance Force Joint Command closed its combat operations, the Taliban continued its relentless attacks across the country.

A militant attack on a police station in Kandahar province Monday left at least five dead. The assault followed a string of high-profile attacks in the capital Kabul.

U.S. General John Campbell said Monday Afghan forces were "increasingly capable" of protecting their country.

The commander of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson, agreed. He told The New York Times if the Afghan security forces were motivated, they could defeat the Taliban.

Anderson described the major challenge now as "who best prepares this winter season, who best sets themselves up for success."

He said the problem could be leadership, but added, "the good news is that the Taliban is just as challenged with strategy, leadership and resources, which causes them to be less effective as well.”

According to figures from the Associated Press, some 3,500 foreign soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion -- most of them American. The death toll among Afghan troops has been far higher -- with nearly 10,000 killed in the past two years alone.

The United States will keep nearly 11,000 troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014. Several other coalition countries will keep some troops there, too.

Departing U.S. defense chief Chuck Hagel on a visit to Afghanistan on Sunday told U.S. troops there that they still have challenges to meet. He said the U.S. does not want to see a rollback of the "tremendous progress that's been accomplished" over the past 13 years.

Some information for this report comes from AP, AFP and Reuters.

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