Origin of ISAF
ISAF was created in accordance with the Bonn Conference in December 2001. Afghan opposition leaders attending the conference began the process of reconstructing their country by setting up a new government structure, namely the Afghan Transitional Authority. The concept of a UN-mandated international force to assist the newly established Afghan Transitional Authority was also launched at this occasion to create a secure environment in and around Kabul and support the reconstruction of Afghanistan.
These agreements paved the way for the creation of a three-way partnership between the Afghan Transitional Authority, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and ISAF.
NATO takes on ISAF command
On 11 August 2003 NATO assumed leadership of the ISAF operation, bringing the six-month national rotations to an end. The Alliance became responsible for the command, coordination and planning of the force, including the provision of a force commander and headquarters on the ground in Afghanistan.
This new leadership overcame the problem of a continual search to find new nations to lead the mission and the difficulties of setting up a new headquarters every six months in a complex environment. A continuing NATO headquarters also enables small countries, less able to take over leadership responsibility, to play a strong role within a multinational headquarters.
Expansion of ISAF’s presence in Afghanistan
ISAF’s mandate was initially limited to providing security in and around Kabul. In October 2003, the United Nations extended ISAF’s mandate to cover the whole of Afghanistan (UNSCR 1510), paving the way for an expansion of the mission across the country.
In December 2003, the North Atlantic Council authorised the Supreme Allied Commander, General James Jones, to initiate the expansion of ISAF by taking over command of the German-led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Kunduz. The other eight PRTs operating in Afghanistan in 2003 remained under the command of Operation Enduring Freedom, the continuing US-led military operation in Afghanistan.
On 31 December 2003, the military component of the Kunduz PRT was placed under ISAF command as a pilot project and first step in the expansion of the mission.
Six months later, on 28 June 2004, at the Summit meeting of the NATO Heads of State and Government in Istanbul, NATO announced that it would establish four other Provincial Reconstruction Teams in the north of the country: in Mazar-e-Sharif, Meymana, Feyzabad and Baghlan.
This process was completed on 1 October 2004, marking the completion of the first phase of ISAF’s expansion. ISAF’s area of operations then covered some 3,600 square kilometres in the north and the mission was able to influence security in nine northern provinces of the country.
On 10 February 2005, NATO announced that ISAF would be further expanded, into the west of Afghanistan.
This process began on 31 May 2006, when ISAF took on command of two additional PRTs, in the provinces of Herat and Farah and of a Forward Support Base (a logistic base) in Herat.
At the beginning of September, two further ISAF-led PRTs in the west became operational, one in Chaghcharan, capital of Ghor province, and one in Qala-e-Naw, capital of Badghis province, completing ISAF’s expansion into the west.
The extended ISAF mission led a total of nine PRTs, in the north and the west, providing security assistance in 50% of Afghanistan’s territory. The Alliance continued to make preparations to further expand ISAF, to the south of the country.
In September 2005, the Alliance also temporarily deployed 2,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to support the 18 September provincial and parliamentary elections.
On 8 December 2005, meeting at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, the Allied Foreign Ministers endorsed a plan that paved the way for an expanded ISAF role and presence in Afghanistan.
The first element of this plan was the expansion of ISAF to the south in 2006, also known as Stage 3.
This was implemented on 31 July 2006, when ISAF assumed command of the southern region of Afghanistan from US-led Coalition forces, expanding its area of operations to cover an additional six provinces – Daikundi, Helmand, Kandahar, Nimroz, Uruzgan and Zabul – and taking on command of four additional PRTs.
The expanded ISAF led a total of 13 PRTs in the north, west and south, covering some three-quarters of Afghanistan’s territory.
The number of ISAF forces in the country also increased significantly, from about 10,000 prior to the expansion to about 20,000 after.
Stage 4: ISAF expands to the east, takes responsibility for entire country
On 5 October 2006, ISAF implemented the final stage of its expansion, by taking on command of the international military forces in eastern Afghanistan from the US-led Coalition.
In addition to expanding the Alliance’s area of operations, the revised operational plan also paved the way for a greater ISAF role in the country. This includes the deployment of ISAF training and mentoring teams to Afghan National Army units at various levels of command.