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SD's role in war in Afghanistan winding down

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RAPID CITY (AP) — The role of the South Dakota National Guard in the war in Afghanistan is winding down after nearly 13 years.

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The Guard has announced that it has no further deployments scheduled to the region after the end of 2014, the Rapid City Journal reported Sunday. More than 1,300 guardsmen from the state have been deployed over the course of the war.

"This cycle that we have been in for over a decade, where units have been continually deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, appears to be coming to a close," said Adjutant General Tim Reisch.

South Dakota currently has 160 Army guardsmen deployed in Afghanistan. The members of the 1742nd Transportation Company are due to return home in November. Thirty-five South Dakotas have died over the course of America's longest war.

South Dakota's Guard makes up nearly 1 percent of the entire National Guard force.

"If you look at those numbers for a state our size, to use (U.S.) Sen. John Thune's term, we really punched above our weight," Reisch said.

The newspaper reported that while the Guard's presence in Afghanistan is being reduced, the state still has active-duty Air Force troops deployed in the region. Ellsworth Air Force Base, which hosts the 28th Bomb Wing, currently has 350 airmen in the area.

President Barack Obama said during a surprise visit Sunday to Bagram Air Field, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, that the U.S. combat mission there will come to a close at the end of year. While many of the 32,800 U.S. forces now in Afghanistan will leave in the coming months, Obama also said a limited continued military presence could help protect gains made during the war.

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