NANGAHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan (KTUU) - The U.S. invaded Afghanistan more than 16 years ago, as a result of the attacks carried out by the Taliban on 9/11. On the surface, it doesn't look like much has changed. Afghanistan remains a war-torn country, the Taliban is still a threat, and U.S. troops are still here, but for those who have served many tours in Afghanistan, the changes are evident.
The mission for U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan has changed dramatically in the more than 16 years since military action in the war-torn country began.
Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph Hissong is currently on his fourth tour in Afghanistan. He first stepped foot on Afghan soil back in 2007. He says back then, the U.S. was leading the fight, while trying to figure out exactly what we were doing.
In the years that have followed, Hissong says it's no longer the same war. He says under the current mission to train, advise and assist, the U.S. has scaled back the number of troops, and for the most part, has left the fighting to the Afghans.
"Coming back now, realizing that there are about 15,000 American soldiers in Afghanistan and we're holding about the same amount of land that we did in 2012 when there were about 141,000," said Hissong. "It's been very noticeable that the Afghan security forces are doing the job they need to do."
Because the U.S. is no longer leading the fight, Capt. Andrew Adam with the 4-25 says the risk has decreased for U.S. Forces since he was first here a few years ago.
"Last time I was here, we had more direct fire engagements, and more encounters with IED's (Improvised Explosive Devices) or indirect fire," said Adam.
As a result of the U.S. taking a step back from the front lines in recent years, Spartan Brigade Commander Col. Jason Jones, who first toured Afghanistan in 2009, says the Aghan National Army was forced to take the lead, and in a few short years, has done exactly that.
"They're bringing it all together," said Jones. "Granted it's been eight years, but when you consider where they have been as a military, how many years it's taken us to get where we are. I would say they're making significant strides to coming online to where they can stand as an independent force to provide security for this country."
Spartan Brigade and NATO Resolute Support Commanders say in order for the Afghan government to prove its legitimacy, the government must be able to protect its people against attacks by insurgents. That legitimacy has recently taken a hit, after a number of attacks over a nine-day period in Kabul claimed more than 130 lives.
"The Afghan people need to see Afghan soldiers winning the fight," said TAAC East Commander Brig. Gen. John Richardson. "In any insurgency it comes down to the government proving its legitimacy to the population, and they do that through providing security, providing good governance, and providing essential services. Every day the government of Afghanistan gets better at all three."
Although the Afghan National Army continues to dramatically improve, U.S. Army leaders recognize that it will still take more time and money before U.S. assistance is no longer needed.