The United States completed the drawdown of its surge forces from Afghanistan, announced Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last week. The return of those 33,000 troops, first authorized by President Obama in December 2009, marks an “important milestone” in the gradual handover of security in Afghanistan to Afghan forces, said Panetta in a Sept. 20 statement. Completion of the surge drawdown comes at a challenging time for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, which last week suspended most joint operations with Afghan security forces following a spike in “green-on-blue” killings of allied personnel by Afghans in uniform. During a press briefing on Sept. 21 in Auckland, New Zealand, with New Zealand Defense Minister Jonathan Coleman, Panetta noted that the surge forces allowed the coalition to reverse the Taliban’s momentum on the battlefield and “dramatically” increase the size and capability of the Afghan national security forces. The remaining 68,000 US troops in Afghanistan will continue working to reduce violence, ensure the Taliban does not regain momentum, and build capacity of the Afghan forces, he said. Panetta reiterated in his statement that the transition to Afghan control “will be completed by the end of 2014.” (AFPS report by Karen Parrish)