There are 68,000 American troops here in Afghanistan, and many of them will be separated from family and friends, for as long as 15 months before they get to go home.
It can be difficult to be away from loved ones for so long, but as I found out, many military families, like the Berndt's, in Washington state, have learned to live with it.
OutFront tonight: McKenzie Berndt and Halle Berndt.
The attack outside a U.S. military base in Kandahar Thursday was only the latest blow in bringing security to the country.
Erin Burnett spoke with the Deputy Foreign Minister of Afghanistan, Jawed Ludin, and asked him if this act of terror caught him by surprise.
Erin Burnett talks to CNN.com Thursday about what she's seeing on the ground in Afghanistan and about her exclusive interview with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Erin Burnett OutFront is live at 7p ET from Kabul on the future of Afghanistan.
(CNN) America's longest war is expected to conclude by the end of next year, when the United States plans to withdraw all its combat troops from Afghanistan.
But many challenges remain.
Insurgents are still a "resilient and determined" threat, according to a Pentagon report released this week. Afghan security forces must be fully trained to take over for U.S. troops. And the two countries have to come to an agreement over what kind of troop presence the U.S. will have in 2014.
"How this war winds down is very important to Afghanistan, to the United States and so many other countries," said CNN's Erin Burnett, who has been in Afghanistan this week talking to U.S. officials, troops and Afghan civilians. "People paid for this with their lives. People have died, people have spent a decade of their lives fighting this war away from home. And of course, the U.S. has spent about $650 billion on the war alone."
Burnett talked to CNN.com on Thursday about her trip and what she's been hearing from various people about the transition and their hopes for Afghanistan's future. Here is an edited version of the conversation:
CNN.com: You talked with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday. What's he saying about the war effort? Has the U.S. accomplished its mission?
Erin Burnett: Panetta points out the success in bringing down key members of core al Qaeda, and he believes he has made real progress on fighting al Qaeda and terrorism in Afghanistan. But he acknowledges that insurgents are still a problem, and he acknowledges that al Qaeda and terrorists have now spread and they're in other places. He specifically mentioned to me Yemen, Somalia and Mali. And he still thinks that al Qaeda is the single biggest threat to the American homeland.
A suicide bomber set off a bomb that struck a vehicle outside the Kandahar airbase hours after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta departed. CNN's Erin Burnett reports.
Programming Note: Erin Burnett is live from Kabul at 7p ET with an exclusive interview with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on the future of Afghanistan and the ongoing fight against al Qaeda.
CNN's Erin Burnett talks to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta about whether the mission to defeat al Qaeda is accomplished.
"The mission of defeating and deterring al Qaeda I think is well on the way towards achieving the mission with regards to Afghanistan." Panetta added, "We have had remarkable success going after special operations against al Qaeda here and we're continuing to do that."
Programming Note: Erin Burnett reports from Kabul with an exclusive interview with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on the future of Afghanistan and the ongoing fight against al Qaeda.