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Earlier this week, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta indicated that American forces in Afghanistan would be accelerating their withdrawal. "Hopefully by the mid-to-latter part of 2013," Panetta said, "we'll be able to make a transition from a combat role to a training, advice, and assist role." This announcement came shortly after the Taliban declared its plans to open a political office in Qatar, allowing for direct peace negotiations. At the moment, the U.S. still has 90,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan, with 22,000 scheduled to return home later this year. 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]

Men of 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, during an operation near the end of their third deployment in three years in Afghanistan. They were securing route 611, which runs Kajaki Sofla, an area that had long been a safe haven for insurgent sub-commanders and for arms and drug trafficking. (Cpl. James Clark/USMC)

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The New Year began violently in Afghanistan, with three bombings killing 13 people in one day in Kandahar. In addition, the French Defense minister told soldiers he backed US efforts to open peace talks with the Taliban, and President Obama was in talks about defense priorites as the US military readied for challenges from China and Iran while downplaying any future counterinsurgency efforts like the ones in Afghanistan or Iraq. Meanwhile, the foreign troop withdrawal process continued, as more responsibility was transferred to Afghan security forces. The goal is a complete withdrawal by the end of 2014. -- Lloyd Young (41 photos total)
Afghan policemen march during the transfer of authority from NATO troops to Afghan security forces in Chaghcharan, Ghor province, west of Kabul, Afghanistan on Jan. 4. The security responsibilities of Chaghcharan, the provincial capital of Ghor province is handed over from the NATO forces to Afghan security forces. The process of taking over security from over 130,000-strong NATO-led ISAF forces by Afghan troops would be completed by the end of 2014 when Afghanistan will take over the full leadership of its own security duties from US and NATO forces. (Hoshang Hashimi/Associated Press)

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KEEPING WARM
KEEPING WARM: An Indian camel herder wrapped himself in a blanket as sat next to his animals at the Pushkar fair in the Indian state of Rajasthan on Friday. (Manish Swarup/Associated Press)

SITTING WITH A SOLDIER
SITTING WITH A SOLDIER: Palestinian children looked at an Islamic Jihad militant in Beit Lahia in the Gaza Strip on Friday. Israel’s navy boarded two small protest boats trying to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip on Friday and towed them to an Israeli port. (Mohamed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)

RUSHING WATER
RUSHING WATER: A fireman walked down a flooded street in Genoa, Italy, on Friday after a storm hit the northern Italian port city. News reports said that at least six people were killed in the storm. (Luca Zennaro/EPA)

BRIGHT IDEA
BRIGHT IDEA: A worker picked through incandescent light bulbs in a store in Zaozhuang City, in Shandong Province, China, Friday. China unveiled its plan for phasing out the energy-inefficient incandescent bulbs in an attempt to promote energy conservation and reduce emissions. (Ji Zhe/Xinhua/Zuma Press)

TAKING FLIGHT
TAKING FLIGHT: A wounded Marine was airlifted by a medevac helicopter in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, on Friday. He was injured when his military vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device during a mission. (Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images)

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As the war in Afghanistan passes the 10-year mark, the security outlook still looks bleak. Nevertheless, the Obama administration has just asked the Pentagon for initial recommendations for the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan in 2014 -- the first step in planning the final U.S. withdrawal. According to the Associated Press, as of yesterday, November 1, 2011, at least 1,704 members of the U.S. military had died in Afghanistan. U.S. diplomats are now asking Afghanistan's neighbors to sign on to an ambitious plan for the future of Central Asia -- ambitiously being called the "New Silk Road" -- that would link the infrastructure of surrounding countries from Kazakhstan to India. Gathered here are images from there over the past month, part of an ongoing monthly series on Afghanistan. [41 photos]

A severely wounded US Marine hit by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) is carried by his comrades to a medevac helicopter of U.S. Army's Task Force Lift "Dust Off", Charlie Company 1-171 Aviation Regiment to be airlifted in Helmand province, on October 31, 2011. The Marine was hit by an IED, lost both his legs and fights for his life. (Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images)

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BOY WITH THE MASK
BOY WITH THE MASK: Wang Gengxiang, known as ‘Masked Boy,’ played with a balloon in Shanxi Province, China, Thursday. The 6-year-old was severely burned last winter in an accident involving a pile of burning straw. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

TAKING A HIT
TAKING A HIT: Spc. Marcus Clay rode in a mine-resistant vehicle as an improvised explosive device detonated in Paktika Province, Afghanistan, Friday. No one was injured. (Johannes Eisele/Aence France-Presse/Getty Images)

HUDDLED TOGETHER
HUDDLED TOGETHER: Players were locked in a scrum during the IRB 2011 Rugby World Cup Pool A match between New Zealand and Tonga at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand, Friday. (Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

ALL ABOARD
ALL ABOARD: Officials rode a train during the inauguration Friday of the second metro rail network in Dubai, which opened after a two-year delay. (Karim Sahib/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)

SHIELDED
SHIELDED: Police took up positions as protesters pulled down a concrete wall in front of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo Friday. Since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, calls have grown in Egypt for ending a 1979 peace treaty with Israel. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters)

FLOATING ALONG
FLOATING ALONG: Rob Hewitt floated past flooded buildings in Port Deposit, Md., Friday. Officials ordered a mandatory evacuation as the Susquehanna River, swollen with rain from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee, continued to rise. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)

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Pakistani Nargis Shah, 13, enjoys playing on a swing along with other children on the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan, Monday, Aug. 15, 2011.

A mother mourns the death of her son at the Banadir hospital on August 16, 2011 in Mogadishu, Somalia. The hospital has been overwhelmed by new patients, as sickness spreads through camps for people displaced by drought and famine. The US government estimates that some 30,000 children have died in southern Somalia in the last 90 days from the crisis.

Two naval officers react outside for services for U.S.Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Joseph Strange at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011, in Philadelphia. Strange was assigned to the Navy SEAL team whose Chinook helicopter was shot down Aug. 6 by a rocket-propelled grenade in what has become the deadliest single loss for U.S. forces in the decade-long war in Afghanistan.

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Pakistani Nargis Shah, 13, enjoys playing on a swing along with other children on the outskirts of Islamabad, Pakistan, Monday, Aug. 15, 2011. (AP Photo/Nathalie Bardou) #

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Indian students of Sri Vishnu Mahadeo Ved Pathshala wrap themselves with saffron cloth after bathing on the banks of the River Ganges on the occasion of Shravan Purnima in Allahabad, India, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2011. Shravan Purnima, a full moon day, is an auspicious day in Hinduism and several festivals fall on this day. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh) #

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A Nepalese devotee walks surrounded by trees on his way to a temple to offer prayers on the occasion of Janai Purnima festival, or Sacred Thread festival, in Kavre district, some 46 kilometers (28 miles) east of capital Katmandu, Nepal, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2011. On Janai Purnima Hindus take holy baths and perform their annual change of the Janai, a sacred cotton string worn around their chest or tied on the wrist, in the belief that it will protect and purify them. (AP Photo/Laxmi Prasad Ngakhusi) #

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A mother mourns the death of her son at the Banadir hospital on August 16, 2011 in Mogadishu, Somalia. The hospital has been overwhelmed by new patients, as sickness spreads through camps for people displaced by drought and famine. The US government estimates that some 30,000 children have died in southern Somalia in the last 90 days from the crisis. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images) #

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Supporters of Indian rights activist Anna Hazare try to block a police van after he was detained prior to beginning a hunger strike in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2011. The prominent activist who had announced an indefinite hunger strike to demand tougher anti-corruption laws was detained early Tuesday morning, police said. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup) #

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In this Monday, Aug. 15, 2011 photo, children watch, from behind a fence, the Deopokhari festival in Khokana, Katmandu, Nepal. The festival is held to appease, what locals believe is, a demon in the pond. Every year on this day cattle is sacrificed to the pond demon so that no human lives are lost drowning in the pond, what locals allege was a common occurrence before the festival began. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha) #

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A child reaches out to touch a huge straw sandal dedicated to a Buddhist temple in Tokyo Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2011. (AP Photo/Junji Kurokawa) #

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A famine refugee plays next to a camp for Somalis displaced by drought and famine on August 18, 2011 in Mogadishu, Somalia. The UN estimates that more than 100,000 people have fled their villages to Mogadishu in the last two months due to the crisis. Some 1.5 million Somalis are estimated displaced nationwide due to drought, famine and war. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images) #

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Two naval officers react outside for services for U.S.Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Joseph Strange, a cryptology technician, at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011, in Philadelphia. Strange was assigned to the Navy SEAL team whose Chinook helicopter was shot down Aug. 6 by a rocket-propelled grenade in what has become the deadliest single loss for U.S. forces in the decade-long war in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) #

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Fans waiting to see Sugarland run away after high winds blew the stage over at the Indiana State Fair Grandstands, Saturday, Aug. 13, 2011, in Indianapolis. About a dozen people are reported to have injuries after the stage collapsed. (AP Photo/The Indianapolis Star, Matt Kryger) #

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A photographer takes pictures of a newlyweds couple posing against the scenic spot at Shidu, on the outskirts of Beijing, China, Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011. Shidu, which means "10 ferry crossings" in Chinese, is one of the most famous tourist attractions in the country. (AP Photo/Andy Wong) #

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A demonstrator holds up a spoon in front of the face of a police officer during a demonstration in Santiago, Chile, Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011. Students have been striking for more than two months now and marching by the tens of thousands calling for free and equal quality education. (AP Photo/Roberto Candia) #

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The sun sets as amusement rides and fun continue on opening day of the Illinois State Fair, Friday Aug. 12, 2011 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield, Ill. The Illinois State Fair will run Aug. 12-21. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman) #

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Egyptian children play as their family awaits Iftar, the meal to break their fast at sunset, during the holy month of Ramadan inside the Al-Azhar mosque, near the Khan el-Khalili market, in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011. During Ramadan, Muslims worldwide fast from sunrise to sunset. (AP Photo/Tara Todras-Whitehill) #

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An Afghan woman, Bibi Hur, cries over her injured daughter at a hospital in Herat, west of Kabul, Afghanistan on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011. Bibi Hur has lost three of her children and two more injured by a road side bomb, Hur said. The roadside bomb killed at least 20 passengers traveling on a minibus Thursday in western Afghanistan, another example of civilians being caught in the crossfire of the fighting between Taliban insurgents and the U.S.-led coalition. (AP Photo/Hoshang Hashimi) #

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A priest takes confession from a pilgrim inside a temporary confesional in the Retiro park ahead to the visit of Pope Benedict XVI in Madrid Wednesday Aug. 17, 2011. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti) #

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In this Aug. 15, 2011 photo, Andrea Mari and his horse Fedora Saura of the Giraffa (Giraffe) neighborhood in Siena, Italy, warm up in Piazza del Campo during a training session in view of the Palio, the famous break-neck bareback horse race around Siena's main square. The annual Palio pits Siena neighborhoods against one another and it's a major tourist draw for this Tuscan city. Each neighborhood puts up a horse and rider to race three times around the slippery, dirt covered cobblestone track. (AP Photo/Paolo Lazzeroni) #

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An Afgan boy has his eyes checked by Medic Stephan Flynn on the Medivac helicopter of 159th Brigade Task Force Thunder during a flight to a hospital in Kandahar on August 16, 2011. The boy was wounded after stepping on an improvised explosive device (IED). Violence against civilians is at a record high in the war, with more than 1,400 Afghan civilians killed in the conflict this year, up 15 percent on the first half of 2010, according to a recently released United Nations report. AFP PHOTO/Johannes EISELE #

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Mulmillo (L) closes the eyes of her two-year-old son Mahmud moments after he died from malnutrition and related complications at a local hospital in Somalia's capital Mogadishu on August 15, 2011. Mulmillo, her husband and three children fled their village in the Lower Shabelle region of southern Somalia and came to Mogadishu in search for a refuge from a severe drought in the region. More than 100,000 people have fled to Mogadishu from other drought-struck Somalia regions in search of food and water, but insecurity in one of the world's most dangerous cities is hampering aid flows. Some 12 million people in parts of Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, Uganda and Somalia are in danger of starvation in the wake of the region's worst drought in decades. AFP PHOTO / ROBERTO SCHMIDT #

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Transsexual Wendy Iriepa rides in a classic car to her wedding in Havana, Cuba, Saturday Aug. 13, 2011. Iriepa, whose sex change operation was paid for by the state, tied the knot with Ignacio Estrada in a first-of-its-kind wedding for Cuba. Gay marriage is not legal in Cuba and Saturday's wedding does nothing to change that since Iriepa is legally considered a woman. (AP Photo/Javier Galeano) #

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The buildup of forces in Afghanistan is complete, with the number of US troops there the highest yet. The surge is part of President Obama’s campaign to take the battle to the Taliban strongholds in the south and east, while accelerating training of Afghan security forces. In February, suicide attacks by militants increased, and villagers and Afghan officials accused NATO of killing a large number of civilians in airstrikes. The images in this month's post show Afghans and NATO-led soldiers working and living through moments of sheer terror and numbing poverty. Through the strife, we see glimpses of the enduring human spirit. --Leanne Burden Seidel (39 photos total)
An Afghan army recruit marches during a graduation parade after an oath ceremony at Ghazi military training center in Kabul Feb. 3. Strengthening the abilities of Afghan forces to secure their country has been a top goal of US policy. (Ahmad Masood/Reuters)

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