ISAF's mission in Afghanistan

  • Last updated: 13 Oct. 2014 15:54

NATO’s primary objective in Afghanistan is to enable the Afghan government to provide effective security across the country and develop new Afghan security forces to ensure Afghanistan can never again become a safe haven for terrorists. The 48 nations which make up the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) have been supporting the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in the conduct of security operations throughout the country. Since 2011, responsibility for security has gradually been transitioned to the Afghans and ISAF’s mission has shifted from a combat-centric role to a more enabling role focusing on training, advising and assisting. With the launch of the final stage of the transition process in June 2013, the Afghan forces have taken the lead for security across the whole country. ISAF’s mission will be completed at the end of 2014. A new, smaller non-combat mission (“Resolute Support”) will provide further support for the continued development and sustainment of the Afghan security forces and institutions post-2014.

  • ISAF’s priorities

    In support of the Afghan government, ISAF is helping the ANSF to reduce the capability and the will of the insurgency and to progressively increase its own capacity and capabilities. ISAF is also helping to create the space and lay the foundations for improvements in governance and socio-economic development for sustainable stability.

    ISAF provides support to the government and international community in security sector reform, including mentoring, training and operational support to the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP). The aim is to build professional, independent and sustainable ANA and ANP forces that are able to provide security and law enforcement to the Afghan people throughout the country. This work is carried out jointly by the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan (NTM-A) and ISAF’s Joint Command (IJC), together with the European Police Mission in Afghanistan (EUPOL) and other important national actors. NTM-A focuses on training initial recruits and building the institutional training capability of the ANSF, while the IJC is responsible for developing fielded ANSF units through advice and assistance.

    ISAF has also contributed to reconstruction and development in Afghanistan through multinational Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) - led by individual ISAF nations - securing areas in which reconstruction work is conducted by national and international actors. Where appropriate – and in close coordination and cooperation with the Afghan government and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) – ISAF has provided practical support for reconstruction and development efforts as well as support for humanitarian assistance efforts conducted by other actors.

    PRTs have also helped the Afghan authorities strengthen the institutions required to fully establish good governance and the rule of law, as well as to promote human rights. The principal role of the PRTs in this respect has been to build capacity, support the growth of governance structures and promote an environment in which governance can improve.

    By the time transition to Afghan full security responsibility is completed at the end of 2014, all PRTs will have been phased out and their functions handed over to the Afghan government, traditional development actors, non-governmental organisations and the private sector.

  • ISAF Mission Evolution

    Transition to full Afghan security responsibility started in July 2011 and is well underway. The ANSF are growing stronger and more capable. As a result, ISAF’s role has changed from leading operations to enabling the Afghan security forces to conduct independent operations themselves.

    This means that ISAF’s mission has evolved from one focused primarily on combat to an enabling Security Force Assistance (SFA) role, which centres on training, advising and assisting its Afghan partners. The aim of this evolution is to ensure that ISAF continues to support the development of ANSF operational effectiveness, so that they are able to fully assume their security responsibilities by the completion of the transition to full Afghan security responsibility at the end of 2014.

    As the ANSF progress towards that goal, the ISAF forces are gradually stepping back and starting to redeploy to their home countries. This drawdown is taking place in a coordinated, measured and gradual way in line with the ANSF’s capacity to manage the security situation.

    An important milestone was reached on 18 June 2013, when the fifth and last tranche of transition areas was announced by the Afghan government. With that, the ANSF took the lead for security across the country. This was a critical step in the transition towards full Afghan security responsibility by end 2014, which was agreed with the Afghan government at the NATO Summit in Lisbon in 2010 and reaffirmed at the NATO Summit in Chicago in 2012. (More on ISAF mission evolution)

    ISAF’s mission in Afghanistan will cease at the end of 2014. However, as agreed by Allied leaders and their ISAF partners with the Afghan government at the Chicago Summit in May 2012 and reaffirmed at the Wales Summit in September 2014 NATO will lead a new, mission to train, advise and assist the ANSF after 2014. The post-2014 mission will be called “Resolute Support” and will not be a combat mission. It will be smaller in size and will focus on the security ministries and national institutional levels and on the higher levels of army and police commands. (More on Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan)

  • ISAF's mandate

    The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has been deployed since 2001 on the basis of a request for assistance by the Afghan authorities and a UN Security Council mandate, which authorised the establishment of the force to assist the Afghan government in the maintenance of security in Kabul and its surrounding areas – in particular to enable the Afghan authorities as well as UN personnel to operate in a secure environment.

    At that time, the operation was limited to the Kabul area, and its command was assumed by ISAF nations on a rotational basis.

    In August 2003, on the request of the UN and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, NATO took command of ISAF. Soon after, the UN mandated ISAF’s gradual expansion outside of Kabul.

    While not technically a UN force, ISAF is a UN-mandated international force under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Eighteen UN Security Council Resolutions relate to ISAF, namely: 1386, 1413, 1444, 1510, 1563, 1623, 1707, 1776, 1817, 1833, 1890, 1917, 1943, 2011, 2069, 2096, 2120, and 2145.

    A detailed Military Technical Agreement agreed between the ISAF Commander and the Afghan Transitional Authority in January 2002 provides additional guidance for ISAF operations.

  • History of ISAF

    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 on 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.

    • Stage 1: to the north

    In December 2003, the North Atlantic Council authorised the then Supreme Allied Commander Europe, 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 PRTs in the north of the country: in Mazar-e Sharif, Meymaneh, 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..

    • Stage 2: to the west

    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 per cent 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.

    • Stage 3: to the south

    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 the US-led coalition forces, expanding its area of operations to cover an additional six provinces – Daykundi, Helmand, Kandahar, Nimruz, 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.