NATO and Afghanistan

  • Last updated: 13 Oct. 2014 15:02

NATO’s primary objective in Afghanistan is to enable the Afghan authorities to provide effective security across the country and ensure that the country can never again be a safe haven for terrorists. Since August 2003, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has been conducting security operations, while also training and developing the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). ISAF was established on the basis of a request for assistance by the Afghan authorities and under a United Nations (UN) mandate. At the end of 2014, ISAF will complete its mission, as planned and agreed with the Afghan authorities. However, support for the continued development of the Afghan security forces and institutions and a wider cooperation with Afghanistan will continue.

In 2011, as agreed with the Afghan authorities, a process of transition of full security responsibility to the Afghan security forces and institutions was launched. That process has been implemented as scheduled and is due to be completed at the end of 2014, when ISAF’s mission will end.

At the NATO Summit in Wales on 4 September 2014, the leaders of ISAF troop-contributing nations underlined their commitment to continue supporting Afghanistan after 2014. Such support will be carried out in three ways. Firstly, NATO Allies and partners stand ready to launch a new NATO-led non-combat mission (called “Resolute Support”) to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces and institutions. Following the signature of a Status of Forces Agreement between NATO and Afghanistan on 30 September 2014, the required legal framework for the Resolute Support Mission is now in place. This new mission will be inaugurated on 1 January 2015. Secondly NATO Allies and partners have renewed their financial commitments to support the sustainment of the Afghan security forces, including to the end of 2017. Thirdly, NATO leaders reaffirmed their commitment to an enduring partnership between NATO and Afghanistan, by strengthening political consultations and practical cooperation. The NATO-Afghanistan Enduring Partnership was signed in 2010 at NATO’s Lisbon Summit.

NATO’s Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan carries forward the Alliance's political-military objectives there, liaising with the Afghan government, civil society, and representatives of the international community and neighbouring countries.

  • ISAF’s mission

    Deployed in 2001 – initially under the lead of individual NATO Allies on a six-month rotational basis – ISAF was tasked, on the request of the Afghan government and under a UN mandate, to assist the Afghan government in maintaining security, originally in and around Kabul exclusively. NATO agreed to take command of the force in August 2003 and the UN Security Council subsequently mandated the gradual expansion of ISAF’s operations to cover the whole country. ISAF is in Afghanistan at the express request of the Afghan authorities.

    As of September 2014, 48 nations are contributing troops to the mission, including 21 non-NATO partners. (For more information on contributing nations and troop numbers, see ISAF "placemat" in margin.)

    As part of the international community’s overall effort, ISAF is working to create the conditions whereby the Afghan government is able to exercise its authority throughout the country, including the development of professional and capable Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). In so doing, ISAF helps create a secure environment for improving governance and socio-economic development and creating the conditions for sustainable stability across Afghanistan.

  • The transition to Afghan lead for security and beyond

    By the end of 2014, Afghan National Security Forces will assume full security responsibility for their people and country, and ISAF’s mission will end. The process of transition to full Afghan security responsibility – known as “Inteqal” in Dari and Pashtu – was launched in 2011 and is well underway. Following the launch of the fifth and final tranche of the transition process in June 2013, Afghan forces are in the lead for security across the whole country.

    Increasing ANSF capacity and leadership has allowed the ISAF mission to evolve, shifting progressively from a combat-centric role to a more enabling role focusing on training, advising and assisting the ANSF to ensure that they are able to assume their full security responsibilities by the end of transition. ISAF continues to provide combat support, as necessary, while pursuing a measured redeployment in a coordinated and coherent manner, until the scheduled completion of transition at the end of 2014.

    NATO’s commitment to Afghanistan after the completion of the transition process stands firm. At NATO’s Summit in Chicago in May 2012, Allies agreed to a follow-on NATO-led non-combat mission to continue supporting the development of the Afghan security forces post-2014. This commitment was reaffirmed at the NATO Summit in Wales in 2014. The NATO-led post-2014 mission will not be a combat mission. It will be a mission to provide training, advice and assistance activities at the security ministries and national institutional levels and the higher levels of army and police command across the country. The detailed operational plan for Resolute Support was approved by the foreign ministers of NATO member and partner countries at the end of June 2014. The legal framework for the new mission is provided by a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), signed in Kabul on 30 September 2014 by the Afghan National Security Adviser, to the newly elected President and NATO’s Senior Civilian Representative to Afghanistan (More on Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan). Resolute Support will have approximately 12,000 personnel from NATO Allies and partner countries. It will operate with one hub (Kabul/Bagram) and four spokes (Mazar-e Sharif, Herat, Kandahar and Jalalabad). At the Chicago Summit, Allied leaders and their partners committed to play their part in the financial sustainment of the ANSF after 2014. This commitment too was reaffirmed at the NATO Summit in Wales. The responsibility to contribute to the financing of this effort is one for the international community as a whole. NATO has participated in that process, by supporting development of appropriate, coherent and effective funding mechanisms and expenditure arrangements for all strands of the ANSF.

    Wider cooperation and political consultation between NATO and Afghanistan beyond 2014 is also being developed within the framework of the NATO-Afghanistan Enduring Partnership, whose declaration was signed by NATO and the Afghan government at NATO’s Lisbon Summit in 2010 (see below).

    NATO’s continued commitment to Afghanistan after 2014 will remain part of a collective effort by the international community. At the July 2012 Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan (Tokyo Declaration), the broader international community and the Afghan government laid the groundwork for the sustainable development of Afghanistan, taking into account the situation after 2014. At the conference, the Afghan government also made clear commitments to making progress in a number of areas, including: to hold inclusive, transparent and credible elections; to fight corruption and improve good governance; to uphold the constitution, especially human rights; and to enforce the rule of law. (Tokyo Annex on mutual accountability)

  • Building the capacity of Afghan National Security Forces

    Developing professional, capable and self-sustaining Afghan National Security Forces has been at the centre of ISAF’s efforts and the core mission of the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan (NTM-A). This enables the implementation of the transition process until end 2014 and will also guide NATO’s commitment to Afghanistan over the long term. ISAF has helped build up the ANSF from scratch to approximately 350,000 soldiers and police officers. Since its creation in 2002, the Afghan National Army (ANA) has been progressively moving from an infantry-centric force to a fully-fledged army to comprise both fighting elements and enabling capabilities - such as military police, intelligence, route clearance, combat support, medical, aviation, and logistics. The role of the Afghan National Police (ANP) is shifting from countering the insurgency to a more civilian policing role, by further developing capabilities ranging from criminal investigations to traffic control. The Afghan Air Force has been steadily increasing its personnel, including aircrew and maintenance and support personnel, and its fleet of fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft.

    Today, the ANSF conduct 95 per cent of conventional operations and 98 per cent of Special Forces operations.

    Developing self sustaining Afghan security forces is NATO’s priority and an ongoing endeavour. That is why the Alliance will remain committed to support Afghanistan after 2014.

    NATO’s training, mentoring and advising role in Afghanistan

    NATO’s Training Mission in Afghanistan (NTM-A) was established on 21 November 2009, bringing together NATO and national training efforts under one umbrella. It has worked in close partnership with the Afghan Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Interior, as well as the European Police Mission in Afghanistan (EUPOL).

    Upon its creation, NTM-A’s key tasks included the provision of training and mentoring to the ANSF, support to the ANA’s institutional training base, and the ANP reform at the district level and below. It also aimed to address the ANA enabling capability shortfalls (including close air support, medical evacuation and intelligence) through ‘train the trainer’ programmes.

    NTM-A’s efforts have been complemented by those of ISAF’s Joint Command (IJC), which is responsible for developing fielded ANSF units through advising and assisting teams. Originally, these teams were the Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams (OMLTs) and the Police Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams (POMLTs). These have gradually evolved into Military Advisory Teams (MATs) and Police Advisory Teams (PATs), respectively. All these teams are now more generically called Security Force Assistance Teams (SFATs).

    As the ANSF grew in size and capacity, NTM-A has been reorganised and its functions are now performed under IJC command. With most training now being performed by the Afghan security forces themselves, capacity building efforts are now focused on providing advice at the ministerial level.

  • NATO’s Enduring Partnership with Afghanistan

    At the 2010 Summit, NATO and Afghanistan reaffirmed their long-term ties with the signing of a Declaration on Enduring Partnership. The document provides a framework for long-term political consultations and practical cooperation between NATO and Afghanistan after 2014.  The initial set of Enduring Partnership activities, agreed by foreign ministers in April 2011, brings together a number of previously separate initiatives. Over time, the Enduring Partnership will evolve to reflect the changing nature of NATO’s mission and its relationship with Afghanistan.

    Cooperation within the framework of the Enduring Partnership currently includes:

    • Capacity-building efforts, such as professional military education programmes;
    • the Building Integrity Programme, which provides tools to help strengthen integrity, transparency and accountability and reduce the risk of corruption in defence and security sectors assisting in the process of further normalisation of the Afghan civil aviation sector;
    • the SILK-Afghanistan project which provides affordable, high-speed Internet access via satellite and fibre optics to Afghan universities and governmental institutions in Kabul;
    • training in civil emergency planning and disaster preparedness;
    • and public diplomacy efforts to promote a better understanding of NATO and its role in Afghanistan.
  • Working with partners

    Addressing Afghanistan’s challenges requires a comprehensive approach, involving civilian and military actors, aimed not only at providing security but also at promoting good governance, the rule of law and long-term development. The Alliance acts in a supporting role to the Afghan government and works in close coordination with other international partners, including the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan, the World Bank, the European Union and the development community.

    The Alliance also works closely with many non-member countries to help secure Afghanistan’s future. Currently, ISAF troop contributors include 21 partners from as far afield as Australia and Latin America. Altogether, they represent almost a quarter of all the member countries of the United Nations, underlining the broad international support for ISAF’s mission. Over the years, Australia, Georgia and Jordan have been among the top non-NATO troop-contributing nations.

    Beyond troop contributors, many partners are supporting ISAF’s mission and the international community’s objectives in Afghanistan in other ways, such as through over-flight and transit rights, or through financial support for building ANSF capacity and for development projects.