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Inside an Afghan Air Force Mi-17 helicopter, a soldier comforts a comrade injured by an improvised bomb in Uruzgan province on Jan. 6, 2014. Afghan security forces have taken the brunt of casualties in the unfinished war as international troops have withdrawn.
Inside an Afghan Air Force Mi-17 helicopter, a soldier comforts a comrade injured by an improvised bomb in Uruzgan province on Jan. 6, 2014. Afghan security forces have taken the brunt of casualties in the unfinished war as international troops have withdrawn. (Josh Smith/Stars and Stripes)
Inside an Afghan Air Force Mi-17 helicopter, a soldier comforts a comrade injured by an improvised bomb in Uruzgan province on Jan. 6, 2014. Afghan security forces have taken the brunt of casualties in the unfinished war as international troops have withdrawn.
Inside an Afghan Air Force Mi-17 helicopter, a soldier comforts a comrade injured by an improvised bomb in Uruzgan province on Jan. 6, 2014. Afghan security forces have taken the brunt of casualties in the unfinished war as international troops have withdrawn. (Josh Smith/Stars and Stripes)
Afghan security forces patrol a village in Panjwai district, once known as part of the 'Birthplace of the Taliban.' Despite its bloody history, Panjwai and surrounding districts have become something of a bright spot with residents increasingly supporting the central government.
Afghan security forces patrol a village in Panjwai district, once known as part of the 'Birthplace of the Taliban.' Despite its bloody history, Panjwai and surrounding districts have become something of a bright spot with residents increasingly supporting the central government. (Josh Smith/Stars and Stripes)
An Afghan soldier says goodbye to his friends from inside an Afghan Air Force Mi-17 helicopter as it sits near a remote desert outpost in Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan.
An Afghan soldier says goodbye to his friends from inside an Afghan Air Force Mi-17 helicopter as it sits near a remote desert outpost in Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan. (Josh Smith/Stars and Stripes)
Afghan National Army soldiers rest in the back of an Mi-17 helicopter after being evacuated from a remote outpost in southern Afghanistan. As coalition air support has dwindled to almost nothing, the few Afghan Air Force helicopters are in high demand.
Afghan National Army soldiers rest in the back of an Mi-17 helicopter after being evacuated from a remote outpost in southern Afghanistan. As coalition air support has dwindled to almost nothing, the few Afghan Air Force helicopters are in high demand. (Josh Smith/Stars and Stripes)
Military medical staff prepare to operate on an Afghan army soldier injured by an improvised bomb blast in southern Afghanistan on Jan. 6, 2015. This hospital in Kandahar has modern equipment and clean conditions, but continuing that level of care depends upon the international aid that entirely funds the facility.
Military medical staff prepare to operate on an Afghan army soldier injured by an improvised bomb blast in southern Afghanistan on Jan. 6, 2015. This hospital in Kandahar has modern equipment and clean conditions, but continuing that level of care depends upon the international aid that entirely funds the facility. (Josh Smith/Stars and Stripes)
Afghan National Army Lt. Col. Mohammed Sadiq, left, examines medical charts for Faridullah, 21, a soldier who lost his left leg to an improvised bomb in southern Afghanistan. By some estimates Afghan security forces suffered nearly as many casualties as they inflicted on insurgents last year.
Afghan National Army Lt. Col. Mohammed Sadiq, left, examines medical charts for Faridullah, 21, a soldier who lost his left leg to an improvised bomb in southern Afghanistan. By some estimates Afghan security forces suffered nearly as many casualties as they inflicted on insurgents last year. (Josh Smith/Stars and Stripes)
Afghan National Army soldiers unload food and other supplies from a truck onto a waiting Mi-17 helicopter at a desert base in southern Afghanistan. The over-stretched Afghan Air Force has only a handful of aircraft to not only supply remote outposts, but evacuate wounded and transport troops.
Afghan National Army soldiers unload food and other supplies from a truck onto a waiting Mi-17 helicopter at a desert base in southern Afghanistan. The over-stretched Afghan Air Force has only a handful of aircraft to not only supply remote outposts, but evacuate wounded and transport troops. (Josh Smith/Stars and Stripes)
An Afghan National Army soldier guards the gate at the former American forward operating base in Masum Ghar. Coalition forces abandoned hundreds of bases around Afghanistan, many of which are now used by the ANA.
An Afghan National Army soldier guards the gate at the former American forward operating base in Masum Ghar. Coalition forces abandoned hundreds of bases around Afghanistan, many of which are now used by the ANA. (Josh Smith/Stars and Stripes)
An Afghan National Army soldier drives an American-made Humvee during an operation in Kandahar province on Jan. 5, 2015. Afghan security forces use a wide range of surplus and sometimes new equipment provided by international donors.
An Afghan National Army soldier drives an American-made Humvee during an operation in Kandahar province on Jan. 5, 2015. Afghan security forces use a wide range of surplus and sometimes new equipment provided by international donors. (Josh Smith/Stars and Stripes)
Afghan National Army soldiers join local police to patrol a village in Panjwai district in southern Afghanistan on Jan. 5, 2015. Once known as a hotbed of insurgent activity, residents and security officials alike say the district has become more supportive of the national government.
Afghan National Army soldiers join local police to patrol a village in Panjwai district in southern Afghanistan on Jan. 5, 2015. Once known as a hotbed of insurgent activity, residents and security officials alike say the district has become more supportive of the national government. (Josh Smith/Stars and Stripes)
Afghan soldiers patrol a village in Panjwai district in southern Afghanistan on Jan. 5, 2015. Officials say a push to maintain a regular presence by security forces has led to a decrease in Taliban influence in the area.
Afghan soldiers patrol a village in Panjwai district in southern Afghanistan on Jan. 5, 2015. Officials say a push to maintain a regular presence by security forces has led to a decrease in Taliban influence in the area. (Josh Smith/Stars and Stripes)
An Afghan Air Force crew chief scans for threats from the door of an Mi-17 helicopter over Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan. With the departure of most foriegn troops, such aircraft provide vital support for security forces scattered around the country.
An Afghan Air Force crew chief scans for threats from the door of an Mi-17 helicopter over Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan. With the departure of most foriegn troops, such aircraft provide vital support for security forces scattered around the country. (Josh Smith/Stars and Stripes)
A girl watches Afghan security forces pass through her village during a patrol in southern Afghanistan. Despite the proclaimed end of combat by international forces, continuing violence has left record numbers of Afghan civilians killed or wounded, according to United Nations officials.
A girl watches Afghan security forces pass through her village during a patrol in southern Afghanistan. Despite the proclaimed end of combat by international forces, continuing violence has left record numbers of Afghan civilians killed or wounded, according to United Nations officials. (Josh Smith/Stars and Stripes)

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — Western leaders have declared an end to their war in Afghanistan, but for hundreds of thousands of Afghan security forces and their remaining foreign advisers, the fighting is far from over.

While embedded with the Afghan soldiers and air crews continuing that fight across what was once the Taliban heartland, Stars and Stripes gained an exclusive look at what the war looks like after the withdrawal of most international forces.

From emergency rooms to dusty village patrols, the faces of Afghan soldiers and civilians reveal the human side of the war NATO and its allies have turned over to the Afghans to fight.

Backed by allied advisers and trainers and funded by billions of dollars in aid, Afghan forces are on the front lines all around Afghanistan, battling militant groups that have fought a bitter insurgency since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

On Jan.1, the NATO-led coalition transitioned to a mission focused more on advising and training than combat operations.

Across the country, bases once teeming with American and allied troops now house Afghan soldiers. Villages once regularly fought over by international forces now rarely see a foreign face.

In Kandahar, one of the deadliest provinces for American troops, Afghan officials say they have seen progress since the “surge” of U.S. forces in 2010. Areas that once provided fertile recruiting ground for the Taliban have become more supportive of the government, residents say.

But even in relative bright spots, Afghans continue to pay a price. By some estimates security forces across Afghanistan suffered nearly as many casualties as they inflicted last year. And the United Nations estimated that at least 10,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in 2014.

Analysts expect Afghanistan to need hundreds of thousands of security forces for years to come to fight the lingering insurgency.

After decades of violence, there is no end in sight.

smith.josh@stripes.comTwitter: @joshjonsmith

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