International Security Assistance Force

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See also: Afghanistan
See also: Afghanistan War (2001-)

While Afghanistan continues to have significant security problems, the larger-scale combat of the Afghanistan War (2001-) is over, and the International Security Assistance Force has a dual mission of improving the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan military and police, as well as direct combat.

ISAF has a unique mandate and structure. It is not a pure United Nations force, although it operates under the authority of UN resolutions for peace operations under United Nations Charter Chapter VII. It is not purely a NATO force, having members from 41 countries. It is in a partnership with the Afghan government and the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

It was created shortly after the Taliban evacuated Kabul, at the Bonn Conference in December 2001. Its mission, according to the UN, is to assist the initially transitional, and now elected, government of Afghanistan “in the maintenance of security in Kabul and its surrounding areas, so that the Afghan Interim Authority as well as the personnel of the United Nations can operate in a secure environment.” The original scope was limited to Kabul, the capital, but is now nationwide.

Nine UN Security Council Resolutions define its scope. 1386, 1413, 1444, 1510, 1563, 1623, 1707, 1776 and 1833 (on 23 September 2008).

A detailed Military Technical Agreement agreed between the ISAF Commander and the Afghan Transitional Authority in January 2002 provides additional guidance for ISAF operations. At UN request, NATO, which has a far larger military infrastructure, took command of ISAF in August 2003. Previously, UN member nations had commanded the forces, with command rotating every six months. The umbrella of NATO also helps small nations, which could not take the command responsibility, play a part in ISAF operations.


ISAF evolved in five phases after the United Nations extended ISAF’s mandate by passing United Nations Security Council resolution 1510, in October 2003.


Besides bases, it covers Kabul and fourteen districts of Kabul Province.


In December 2003, the NATO Council authorised the Supreme Allied Commander, GEM 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 and U.S. Combined Task Force 180.

The command includes the following provinces

Kunduz's PRT came under ISAF command on December 31. On 28 June 2004, at the Summit meeting of the NATO Heads of State and Government in Istanbul, ISAF was to expand to four more northern PRTs in Mazar-e-Sharif in Balkh Province, Meymana in Faryab Province, Feyzabad in Badakhshan Province and Puli Khumri in Baghlan Province.

This transition was complete on October 1, 2004, covering 3,600 square kilometers.


Expansion into western Afghanistan was agreed on 10 February 2005. ISAF took command of provincial PRTs in Herat Province and Farah Province, and a Forward Support Base (a logistic base) in Herat.

It covers:

In 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 Baghdis province, completing ISAF’s expansion into the west.

This now covered half the land area of Afghanistan. During this phase, there was a temporary deployment of an extra 2,000 troops to support provincial and national elections..


On 8 December 2005, an agreement was made to extend coverage to the south, which was implemented on 31 July 2006. ISAF took over this region from U.S. command.

The region took on four additional [[PRT\\s, and added 10,000 troops.

It covers:


On 5 October 2006, ISAF implemented the final stage of its expansion, taking command of forces in the East, and also deploying higher-level assistance teams to the Afghan National Army

Provinces in this command are:

ISAF command

ISAF has been commanded by a U.S. four-star general, who is also commander of United States Forces - Afghanistan (USFOR-A). On May 12, 2009, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates asked for the resignation of the USFOR-A/ISAF commander, GEN David McKiernan; he was replaced by GEN Stanley McChrystal.[1]. McChrystal comes from a special operations background, as opposed to McKiernan's in armor.

ISAF structure

While ISAF is under the auspices of NATO, a total of 41 countries, not all NATO members, are involved.

The composite headquarters is colocated with Regional Command Capital. France operates the Capital command.

There are five regional commands of ISAF.[2]

  • North: Germany forces; primarily training
  • East: U.S.
  • South: rotating command between Dutch, Canadian, and British forces,
  • West: Italy; primarily training
  • Capital: The capital region included the composite ISAF HQ, made up of members of all 41 contributing nations

Under USFOR-A, overtly, are two major commands, one combat and one advisory/training. Combat capabilities are based on a U.S. division, forming a U.S. task force named for the division (i.e., currently Combined Joint Task Force-101, based on the 101st Airborne Division), which is also the ISAF Regional Command-East. Assigned to Afghanistan are the division headquarters, 4th Brigade Combat Team, the 101st Aviation Brigade and the 101st Sustainment Brigade; the remaining brigade combat teams are in Iraq. [3]

Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan is headed by a U.S. major general, with British and Canadian brigadier general deputies.


  1. Ann Scott Tyson (May 12, 2009), "Top U.S. Commander in Afghanistan Is Fired", Washington Post
  2. International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Globalsecurity
  3. History of the 101st Airborne Division, Combined Joint Task Force-101