Eng. / Fr.

NATO operations and missions 

NATO is an active and leading contributor to peace and security on the international stage. Through its crisis management operations, the Alliance demonstrates both its willingness to act as a positive force for change and its capacity to meet the security challenges of the 21st century.

Since its first military intervention in 1995, NATO has been engaged in an increasingly diverse array of operations. Today, roughly 70 000 military personnel are engaged in NATO missions around the world, successfully managing complex ground, air and naval operations in all types of environment. These forces are currently operating in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Iraq, the Mediterranean and Somalia.

Current operations and missions

Since its first intervention in the Balkans in 1995, the tempo and diversity of NATO operations have only increased. NATO has since been engaged in missions that cover the full spectrum of crisis management operations – from combat and peacekeeping, to training and logistics support, to surveillance and humanitarian relief. Today, they are operating in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Iraq, the Mediterranean and Somalia.

NATO in Afghanistan

NATO’s operation in Afghanistan constitutes the Alliance’s most significant undertaking to date.  Established by UN mandate in 2001, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has been under NATO leadership since August 2003.

ISAF comprises some 55,000 troops from over 40 different countries deployed throughout Afghanistan. Its mission is to extend the authority of the Afghan central government in order to create an environment conducive to the functioning of democratic institutions and the establishment of the rule of law. 

A major component of this mission is the establishment of professional Afghan National Security Forces that would enable Afghans to assume more and more responsibility for the security of their country. Much progress has already been made.  From a non-existent force in 2003, the Afghan army currently comprises over 70,000 soldiers, and has begun taking the lead in most operations. 

In addition to conducting security operations and building up the Afghan army and police, ISAF is also directly involved in facilitating the development and reconstruction of Afghanistan through 26 Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) which are engaged in identifying reconstruction needs and supporting humanitarian assistance activities throughout the country.

NATO in Kosovo

While Afghanistan remains NATO’s primary operational theatre, the Alliance has not faltered on its other commitments, particularly in the Balkans.  Today, roughly 15,000 Allied troops operate in the Balkans as part of NATO’s Kosovo Force (KFOR).

Having first entered Kosovo in June 1999 to end widespread violence and halt the humanitarian disaster, KFOR troops continue to maintain a strong presence throughout the territory, preserving the peace that was imposed by NATO nearly a decade earlier. 

Following Kosovo’s declaration of independence in February 2008, NATO agreed it would continue to maintain its presence on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 1244.  In June 2008, the Alliance decided to take on responsibility for supervising the dissolution of the Kosovo Protection Corps and to help create a professional and multiethnic Kosovo Security Force. 

NATO and Iraq

Between the Balkans and Afghanistan lies Iraq, where NATO has been conducting a relatively small but important support operation.

At the Istanbul Summit in June 2004, the Allies rose above their differences and agreed to be part of the international effort to help Iraq establish effective and accountable security forces. The outcome was the creation of the NATO Training Mission in Iraq (NTM-I). 

The NTM-I delivers its training, advice and mentoring support in a number of different settings. All NATO member countries are contributing to the training effort either in or outside of Iraq, through financial contributions or donations of equipment.

Monitoring the Mediterranean Sea

NATO operations are not limited only to zones of conflict. In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, NATO immediately began to take measures to expand the options available to counter the threat of international terrorism.  With the launching of the maritime surveillance operation Active Endeavour in October 2001, NATO added a new dimension to the global fight against terrorism. 

Led by NATO naval forces, Operation Active Endeavour is focused on detecting and deterring terrorist activity in the Mediterranean. The scope of this operation was later expanded to include the escort of Allied civilian and commercial vessels through the Straight of Gibraltar. 

The operation has proved to be an effective tool both in safeguarding a strategic maritime region and in countering terrorism on and from the high seas.  Moreover, the experience and partnerships developed through Operation Active Endeavour have considerably enhanced NATO’s capabilities in this increasingly vital aspect of operations.

Supporting the African Union

Well beyond the Euro-Atlantic region, the Alliance continues to support the African Union (AU) in its peacekeeping missions on the African continent. 

Since June 2007, NATO has assisted the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) by providing airlift support for AU peacekeepers. This support was authorized until February 2009 and the Alliance is ready to consider any new requests from the AU. NATO also continues to work with the AU in identifying further areas where NATO could support the African Standby Force.  

NATO’s support to AMISOM coincided with a similar support operation to the AU peacekeeping mission in Sudan (AMIS).  From June 2005 to December 2007, NATO provided air transport for some 37,000 AMIS personnel, as well as trained and mentored over 250 AMIS officials. While NATO’s support to this mission ended when AMIS was succeeded by the UN-AU Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), the Alliance immediately expressed its readiness to consider any request for support to the new peacekeeping mission. 

NATO’s continuing support to the AU is a testament to the Alliance’s commitment to building partnerships and supporting peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts beyond the Euro-Atlantic region.

Counter-piracy off the Horn of Africa

In March 2009, NATO launched Operation Allied Protector, a counter-piracy operation, to improve the safety of commercial maritime routes and international navigation off the Horn of Africa. The force is conducting surveillance tasks and providing protection to deter and suppress piracy and armed robbery, which are threatening sea lines of communication and economic interests.

Terminated operations and missions

Counter-piracy in the Gulf of Aden

From October to December 2008, NATO launched Operation Allied Provider, which involved counter-piracy activities off the coast of Somalia. Responding to a request from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, NATO naval forces provided escorts to UN World Food Programme (WFP) vessels transiting through the dangerous waters in the Gulf of Aden, where growing piracy has threatened to undermine international humanitarian efforts in Africa. 

Concurrently, in response to an urgent request from the African Union, these same NATO naval forces escorted a vessel chartered by the AU carrying equipment for the Burundi contingent deployed to AMISOM. 

Pakistan earthquake relief operation

Just before the onset of the harsh Himalayan winter, a devastating earthquake hit Pakistan on 8 October 2005, killing an estimated 80 000 people and leaving up to three million without food or shelter.

On 11 October, in response to a request from Pakistan, NATO launched an operation to assist in the urgent relief effort. The Alliance airlifted close to 3,500 tons of supplies and deployed engineers, medical units and specialist equipment to assist in relief operations. This was one of NATO’s largest humanitarian relief operations, which came to an end on 1 February 2006.

The Alliance has provided assistance to other countries hit by natural disasters over time, including Turkey, Ukraine and Portugal.

NATO in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Between 1995 and 2004, NATO led a peace support force in Bosnia and Herzegovina, helping to maintain a secure environment and facilitating the country's reconstruction in the wake of the 1992-1995 war.

In light of the improved security situation, NATO brought its peace support operation to a conclusion in December 2004 and the European Union deployed a new force called Operation Althea. This has taken on the main peace stabilization role previously undertaken by NATO under the Dayton Peace Agreement. NATO has maintained a military headquarters in the country to carry out a number of specific tasks related, in particular, to assisting the government in reforming its defence structures.

NATO in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia¹

Responding to a request from the Macedonian government, NATO implemented three successive operations there from August 2001 to March 2003. 

First, Operation Essential Harvest disarmed ethnic Albanian groups operating on Macedonia’s territory.

The follow-on Operation Amber Fox provided protection for international monitors overseeing the implementation of the peace plan. 

Finally, Operation Allied Harmony was launched in December 2002 to provide advisory elements to assist the government in ensuring stability throughout Macedonian territory. 

These operations in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia1 demonstrated the strong inter-institutional cooperation between NATO, the EU and the OSCE.

From 1949 to 1995

During the Cold War

When NATO was established in 1949, one of its fundamental roles was to act as a powerful deterrent against military aggression – a raison d’être that remained unchanged for nearly 50 years. 

In this role, NATO’s success was reflected in the fact that, throughout the entire period of the Cold War, NATO forces were not involved in a single military engagement.  For much of the latter half of the 20th century, NATO remained vigilant and prepared.

After the Cold War

With the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s came great changes to the international security environment. The Alliance witnessed the emergence of new threats and the resurgence of old but familiar ones. 

With these changing conditions came new responsibilities. From being an exclusively defensive alliance for nearly half a century, NATO began to assume an increasingly proactive role within the International Community.  This role presented many challenges.  The first test for NATO came in 1995, as the crisis in the Balkans reached a tipping point. 

NATO’s first military operation

After diplomatic efforts failed to end the conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), the International Community called upon the Alliance to act, and NATO was prepared to respond.

In August 1995, NATO launched Operation Deliberate Force to compel an end to Serb-led violence in BiH. This successful air campaign paved the way to the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords in December 1995. 

To support the implementation of this peace agreement, NATO immediately deployed a UN-mandated Implementation Force (IFOR) comprising some 60,000 troops. This operation was followed in December 1996 with the deployment of a 32,000-strong Stabilization Force (SFOR), which maintained a secure environment in BiH until the mandate was handed over to a European Union (EU) force in December 2004. 

These first three successful peace-support operations demonstrated NATO’s readiness to act decisively when called upon by the International Community.  What followed was a period of unprecedented operational activity for the Alliance.

  1. Turkey recognizes the Republic of Macedonia with its constitutional name.