Nightly News   |  August 03, 2013

As mission in Afghanistan winds down, troops return

After 12 years of war, the NATO combat mission in Afghanistan is slowly winding down. It means that for most American troops, the steady drumbeat of repeated deployments to the war zone will be coming to an end. NBC’s Lester Holt reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> after 12 years of war the nato combat mission in afghanistan is slowly winding down, slated to end by december of next year. it means for most american troops the steady drumbeat of repeated deployments to the war zone will be coming to an end. we were in georgia this week as members of an army division we spent time with in afghanistan back in september came home. they hope for a very long time.

>> reporter: for as long as most of these soldiers have been in the army, homecomings have meant soon preparing to go back to war.

>> i'm used to coming home and hurry up and getting back into training.

>> reporter: cheerful greetings before long become tearful good-byes.

>> it really, like, hits you at night when you, you know, go to bed alone.

>> reporter: after five deployments since 2003 , four to iraq and one this past year to afghanistan , the army's third infantry division has just returned home to fort stewart , georgia , and with the u.s. planning to largely pull out of afghanistan by the end of next year, it appears this division won't be going back any time soon.

>> so now they can take time for themselves. they can take advantage of going to school. they can take the opportunity for their family to settle down and be stabilized.

>> reporter: we were with elements of the third id in kandahar last fall. it's where i first met captain steve as he led his troops in search of taliban rocket implacements. now back in georgia after two deployments to afghanistan , he, like the army as a whole, is in transition.

>> before our priorities were being successful at war, being successful in our mission, and now my job is essentially the same, but we're focused on a doctrinal readiness.

>> reporter: as they learn how to reintegrate stateside, so do their spouses.

>> just getting back into the routine of being a couple again. it takes a little time .

>> i'm hoping it means some stability in one place so that way we can actually put some kind of roots somewhere.

>> reporter: on this last deployment the third id was focused on training afghan forces. major general robert abrams who until this week commanded the division and says their mission was successful.

>> as i told everyone, to include the afghans, they only have to be good enough right now to beat the taliban, and they are.

>> reporter: but success came at a price.

>> he is out of -- he was killed in southern afghanistan .

>> reporter: at fort stewart along rows of trees dedicated to the more than 463rd id members lost over the last decade, general abrams reflects on his soldiers who didn't come home.

>> when you lose soldiers under your command, it's personal, and it stays with you forever.

>> reporter: americans are still dying in afghanistan . 85 so far this year, and even as captain steve settles into life stateside, a part of him will remain over there medical the last soldier comes home.

>> here still doing the mission. what's frustrating for me is when it seems like no one back here really understands that that soldier is still trying to complete a mission, and he gave his life to complete that mission.

>> and completing that mission in southern afghanistan where the third id was operating is the fourth infantry division out of colorado which took over regional command responsibilities there last month.