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Graduation season is well underway, with kindergartners, high schoolers, college seniors and graduate students alike donning caps and gowns to celebrate their achievement. With their diplomas, graduates also get words of wisdom from a commencement speakers and a good excuse to celebrate. -- Lloyd Young ( 31 photos total)
US Naval Academy graduates throw their hats at the conclusion of their commencement and commission ceremony, attended by President Barack Obama at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on May 24 in Annapolis, Md. (Michael Reynolds/European Pressphoto Agency)     

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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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President Barack Obama told war-weary Americans in a 15 minute address from the East Room of the White House that the United States had largely achieved it's goals in Afghanistan and that a withdrawal of American troops would be set in motion. He said Afghanistan no longer represented a terrorist threat to the United States and that the "tide of war is receding." He announced plans to withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year. The remaining 20,000 troops from the 2009 "surge" would leave by next summer. He added that the drawdown would continue "at a steady pace" until the US handed over security to the Afghan authorities in 2014. President Sarkozy, of France, said he would also begin drawing down the 4,000-strong French contingent in Afghanistan. In keeping with 5,000 years of Afghan history, President Hamid Karzai said, “Afghans would take responsibility for the preservation of their soil, the security of their people and educating their children by the end of 2014.” In this post, we offer more glimpses of the troops and the Afghan people as they coexist, for now. - Paula Nelson (45 photos total)
U.S. President Barack Obama is seen on live television screens in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House, June 22, 2011 in Washington, DC. Obama announced he will order 10,000 troops to pull out of Afghanistan this year and another 20,000 troops by the end of next summer. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

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