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In the year 2011, a total of 565 NATO forces stationed in Afghanistan were killed -- down from 711 in 2010 -- marking the largest decline in annual deaths during the decade-long conflict. The large number of NATO soldiers on the ground appears to have made a difference, a fact that worries Afghans as the U.S. and others accelerate their planned pullback. This year, 23,000 U.S. soldiers are scheduled to depart the country, heading toward a full withdrawal by 2014. For now, U.S. troops appear to be focusing on intensive training of Afghan forces and preparing for the logistical challenge of shipping home some $30 billion worth of military gear. Gathered here are images of the people and places involved in this conflict over the past month, as part of an ongoing monthly series on Afghanistan. [42 photos]

Cpl. James Hernandez, a combat engineer with Alpha Company, 9th Engineer Support Battalion, and a native of Goodyear, Arizona, uses an electric saw to dismantle a HESCO barrier at Firebase Saenz, in Helmand province, on December 13, 2011. FB Saenz is the first of several patrol bases being demilitarized by the Marines of 9th ESB throughout the month of December. (USMC/Cpl. Bryan Nygaard)

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Kashmir is a scenic land of tranquil beauty. A longstanding dispute over control of the region ensures that life for Kashmiris is anything but tranquil. Both India and Pakistan claim Kashmir, and a fortified Line of Control separates forces. China also administers part of the region. Two wars have been fought between Pakistan and India since borders were drawn in 1947, and the predominately Muslim area chafes under Indian control. In August mass graves were disclosed that likely held the bodies of "disappeared" civilians killed during insurgencies years ago. The disclosure was one of a series of incidents which keeps the region tense. The political dispute and attendant violence disturbs what should otherwise be a culturally vibrant, lushly beautiful idyll. Collected here are images from the last several months in Kashmir, a region of roughly twelve and a half million people. -- Lane Turner (47 photos total)
Indian tourists enjoy a traditional Shikara boat ride on Dal Lake in Srinagar, India on July 7, 2011. (Mukhtar Khan/AP)

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(AP) The U.S. death toll has mounted in recent weeks as American troops try to extend their reach in the southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand, while insurgents have mounted a summer counteroffensive aimed at both international troops and the Afghan government.
June was the deadliest month for U.S. and international forces with the deaths of [...]

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