As the military looks forward to 2013, there are a lot of uncertainties surrounding issues likes funding and benefits, but one of the biggest issues in front of the Armed Forces is the continued involvement in Afghanistan. The past year was full of progress and setbacks, but as the troops enter 2013, it might be a good idea to look back at the last 12 months.

Violence down
Of all the positive news out of Afghanistan this year, some of the most encouraging is that of U.S. troop deaths, overall NATO fatalities and Afghan civilian deaths all decreased during 2012. In 2011, 404 U.S. soldiers were killed in the country, but that number shrank to 295 in 2012, according to The Associated Press. Additionally, the number of Afghan troops taking control of security missions swelled considerably.

"Our forces are out there in the battlefields and combat areas more than at any other time in the past," Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, told the AP.

Positive news comes with steps back
While it is certainly encouraging to see a dwindling number of U.S. troops being killed in action, the number of insider attacks on American forces was a bit troubling. There were 45 such attacks in 2012, compared to just 21 in 2011. Additionally, 61 soldiers were killed in insider incidents, which have caused some friction between American and Afghan forces and lead to some concerns about the success of the American mission there.

Future of withdrawal plans
American troops are still expected to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but that timeline could see some changes in the next two years. In November, the Senate voted overwhelmingly across party lines to support an accelerated withdrawal timetable for the 66,000 soldiers still in the country. However, outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has maintained that the United States may need to leave a small group of soldiers there past the 2014 deadline.

"Although we clearly have had an impact on [al-Qaeda's] presence in Afghanistan, the fact is that they continue to show up," Panetta said during a recent press conference.