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End of Combat Operations: Lessons learned and the way forward in Afghanistan

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) –  A weekend ceremony ended the combat operation for the United States and NATO in Afghanistan.

Lieutenant General Jim Pillsbury watched the combat mission unfold for himself as the head of Aviation and Missile Command at Redstone Arsenal.

Now he tells us, “I’m retired. I’m doing a little consulting. I’ve got an eight handicap.”

Just one of many differences since the US went to war in Afghanistan.

In fact, he tells us, “That very nature of warfare has changed over the last 14 years.”

This conflict defined an entire era of warfare, and it comes with unique lessons. Some hover into mind immediately.

“Drones,” says Pillsbury, “Both intelligence and weaponized drones, keep soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines out of harms way.”

But the military had to pick up on subtler differences as well.

Many of them boiling down to the mindset of both enemies and allies in the strange land.

Pillsbury highlights one critical lesson, “Tribal ties were much more important to them than country.”

So the US troops had to develop a new specialty in small operations. Lt. Gen. Pillsbury says our expertise is now unmatched.

Also, age-old weapons took on a whole new importance. Pillsbury continues, “Certainly special operations forces have proven to be more than effective.”

Putting a bookend on combat operations in Afghanistan separates a now slightly more familiar frontier of modern warfare, from the frontier we’ll find ourselves facing next.

Still, some US troops will remain on the ground in the country. The US mission will shift to focus more exclusively on supporting.

Lt. Gen. Pillsbury explains, “We are still training the Afghani military and police. We’re training the Afghani’s in what democracy looks like.”

The support mission comes at a time when it’s importance couldn’t be more clear.

ISIS showed us how crucial it is to leave behind formidable forces.

Pillsbury elaborates, “We must have coalition partners that are capable of defending their homeland. We must have coalition partners that are capable of going and joining us as we engage the enemies of our nation and of the world.”

That means extensive training for native forces is a must.

So even after their combat role concludes, US forces will hold onto a heft responsibility of preparing new allies for a new battlefield.