International Security Assistance Force

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International Security Assistance Force
Official logo of ISAF
ActiveDecember 20, 2001 – December 28, 2014
CountryContributing States: See Below
AllegianceNATO North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Size18,636 (1 December 2014) [1][2]
Part of

JFC-B.png Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum

American contingent responsible to:
United States Central Command
MacDill AFB, Florida, U.S.
HeadquartersKabul, Afghanistan
Motto"Assistance and Cooperation"
Persian: کمک و همکاریKumak u Hamkāri
Pashto: کمک او همکاري‎ Kumak aw Hamkāri

Global War on Terrorism

Gen. John F. Campbell (2014)
FlagFlag of the International Security Assistance Force.svg
Variant flagFlag of the International Security Assistance Force (Variant).png
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"ISAF" redirects here. For the sailing body, see International Sailing Federation. For other uses, see ISAF (disambiguation).
"Coalition Forces" redirects here. For the Persian Gulf War body, see Coalition of the Gulf War.
International Security Assistance Force
Official logo of ISAF
ActiveDecember 20, 2001 – December 28, 2014
CountryContributing States: See Below
AllegianceNATO North Atlantic Treaty Organization
Size18,636 (1 December 2014) [1][2]
Part of

JFC-B.png Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum

American contingent responsible to:
United States Central Command
MacDill AFB, Florida, U.S.
HeadquartersKabul, Afghanistan
Motto"Assistance and Cooperation"
Persian: کمک و همکاریKumak u Hamkāri
Pashto: کمک او همکاري‎ Kumak aw Hamkāri

Global War on Terrorism

Gen. John F. Campbell (2014)
FlagFlag of the International Security Assistance Force.svg
Variant flagFlag of the International Security Assistance Force (Variant).png

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was a NATO-led security mission in Afghanistan, established by the United Nations Security Council in December 2001 by Resolution 1386 as envisaged by the Bonn Agreement.[3][4] Its main purpose was to train the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and assist Afghanistan in rebuilding key government institutions, but is also engaged in the 2001–present war with insurgent groups.

ISAF was initially charged with securing Kabul and surrounding areas from the Taliban, al Qaeda and factional warlords, so as to allow for the establishment of the Afghan Transitional Administration headed by Hamid Karzai.[5] In October 2003, the UN Security Council authorized the expansion of the ISAF mission throughout Afghanistan,[6] and ISAF subsequently expanded the mission in four main stages over the whole of the country.[7] From 2006 to 2011, ISAF had been involved in increasingly more intensive combat operations in southern and eastern Afghanistan.

Troop contributors include from the United States, United Kingdom, NATO member states and a number of other countries. The intensity of the combat faced by contributing nations varies greatly, with the United States sustaining the most total casualties, but with other contributors, especially the United Kingdom, Canada, and Denmark, sustaining more casualties relative to their population size. As of early 2010, there were at least 700 military bases inside Afghanistan. About 400 of these were used by American‑led NATO forces and 300 by ANSF.[8]

ISAF ceased combat operations in 2014, with a minority of troops remaining behind as the advisory Resolute Support Mission.


ISAF's military terminal at Kabul International Airport in September 2010.

For almost two years, the ISAF mandate did not go beyond the boundaries of Kabul. According to General Norbert Van Heyst, such a deployment would require at least an extra ten thousand soldiers. The responsibility for security throughout the whole of Afghanistan was to be given to the newly reconstituted Afghan National Army. However, on 13 October 2003, the Security Council voted unanimously to expand the ISAF mission beyond Kabul in Resolution 1510. Shortly thereafter, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien said that Canadian soldiers (nearly half of the entire force at that time) would not deploy outside Kabul.

On 24 October 2003, the German Bundestag voted to send German troops to the region of Kunduz. Approximately 230 additional soldiers were deployed to that region, marking the first time that ISAF soldiers operated outside of Kabul. After the 2005 Afghan parliamentary election, the Canadian base Camp Julien at Kabul closed, and remaining Canadian assets moved to Kandahar as part of Operation Enduring Freedom in preparation for a significant deployment in January 2006. On 31 July 2006, the NATO‑led International Security Assistance Force assumed command of the south of the country, ISAF Stage 3, and by 5 October also of the east of Afghanistan, ISAF Stage 4.

ISAF was mandated by UN Security Council Resolutions 1386, 1413, 1444, 1510, 1563, 1623, 1659, 1707, 1776,[9] and 1917 (2010). The last of these extended the mandate of ISAF to 23 March 2011.

The mandates the different governments gave to their forces differed from country to country.[citation needed] Some governments wish to take a full part in counter-insurgency operations;[citation needed] some are in Afghanistan for NATO alliance reasons;[citation needed] some are in the country partially because they wish to maintain their relationship with the United States,[citation needed] and possibly,[original research?] some are there for domestic political reasons.[citation needed] This means that ISAF suffers from a certain lack of united aims.[citation needed]


Geographic depiction of the four ISAF stages (January 2009).

The initial ISAF headquarters (AISAF) was based on 3rd UK Mechanised Division, led at the time by Major General John McColl. This force arrived in December 2001. Until ISAF expanded beyond Kabul, the force consisted of a roughly division-level headquarters and one brigade covering the capital, the Kabul Multinational Brigade. The brigade was composed of three battle groups, and was in charge of the tactical command of deployed troops. ISAF headquarters serves as the operational control center of the mission.

ISAF command originally rotated among different nations on a 6‑month basis. However, there was tremendous difficulty securing new lead nations. To solve the problem, command was turned over indefinitely to NATO on 11 August 2003. This marked NATO's first deployment outside Europe or North America.

Stage 1: to the north – completed October 2004[edit]

Stage 2: to the west – completed September 2005[edit]

Stage 3: to the south – completed July 2006[edit]

Stage 4: ISAF takes responsibility for entire country – completed October 2006[edit]

ISAF after Stage 4: October 2006 to present[edit]

Anaconda Strategy vs the insurgents as of 2010-10-20.
SOF 90‑Day Accumulated effect (23 Sep 10).

Colombia had planned to deploy around 100 soldiers in Spring 2009.[20][21] These forces were expected to be demining experts.[22][23] General Freddy Padilla de Leon announced to CBS that operators of Colombia's Special Forces Brigade were scheduled to be deployed to Afghanistan in either August or September 2009.[24] However, the Colombians are not listed as part of the force as of June 2011.

Three NATO states announced withdrawal plans from 2010. Canada in 2011,[25] Poland in 2012,[26] and the United Kingdom in 2010.[27] Between July 1, 2014, and August, Regional Command Capital and Regional Command West were redesignated Train Advise and Assist Command Capital (TAAC Capital) and TAAC West.[28] The United States ended combat operations in Afghanistan in December 2014. Sizable advisory forces will remain to train and mentor Afghan National Security Forces, and NATO will continue operating under the Resolute Support Mission. ISAF Joint Command, in its final deployment provided by Headquarters XVIII Airborne Corps, ceased operations ahead of the end of the NATO combat mission on December 8, 2014.[29]

Security and reconstruction[edit]

Since 2006 the insurgency of the Taliban has been intensifying, especially in the southern Pashtun parts of the country, areas that were the Taliban's original power base in the mid‑1990s. ISAF took over command of the south on 31 July 2006, British, Dutch, Canadian and Danish ISAF soldiers in the provinces of Helmand, Uruzgan, and Kandahar have come under almost daily attack. British commanders said the fighting for them was the fiercest since the Korean War, fifty years ago. BBC reporter Alistair Leithead, embedded with the British forces, called it in an article "Deployed to Afghanistan's hell".[30]

Because of the security situation in the south, ISAF commanders have asked member countries to send more troops. On 19 October, for example, the Dutch government decided to send more troops, because of the increasing attacks by suspected Taliban on their Task Force Uruzgan, which makes it very difficult to complete the reconstruction work they came to accomplish.
Derogatory alternative acronyms for the ISAF were created by critics, including "I Saw Americans Fighting",[31] "I Suck at Fighting", and "In Sandals and Flip Flops".[32]

ISAF and the illegal opium economy[edit]

Opium production levels for 2005–2007
Regional security risks of opium poppy cultivation in 2007–2008.

Prior to October 2008, ISAF had only served an indirect role in fighting the illegal opium economy in Afghanistan through shared intelligence with the Afghan government, protection of Afghan poppy crop eradication units and helping in the coordination and the implementation of the country's counternarcotics policy. For example, Dutch soldiers have used military force to protect eradication units that came under attack.

Crop eradication often affects the poorest farmers who have no economic alternatives on which to fall back. Without alternatives, these farmers can no longer feed their families, causing anger, frustration, and social protest. Thus, being associated with this counterproductive drug policy, ISAF soldiers on the ground find it difficult to gain the support of the local population.[33]

Though problematic for NATO, this indirect role has allowed NATO to avoid the opposition of the local population who depend on the poppy fields for their livelihood. In October 2008 NATO altered its position in an effort to curb the financing of insurgency by the Taliban. Drug laboratories, and drug traders became the targets, and not the poppy fields themselves.[34] In order to appease France, Italy, and Germany, the deal involved the participation in an anti-drugs campaign only of willing NATO member countries, was to be temporary, and was to involve cooperation of the Afghans.[34]

On 10 October 2008, during a news conference, after an informal meeting of NATO Defence Ministers in Budapest, Hungary, NATO Spokesman James Appathurai said:[35]

...with regard to counternarcotics, based on the request of the Afghan government, consistent with the appropriate UN Security Council Resolutions, under the existing operational plan, ISAF can act in concert with the Afghans against facilities and facilitators supporting the insurgency, subject to the authorization of respective nations.... The idea of a review is, indeed, envisioned for an upcoming meeting.

Military and civilian casualties[edit]

ISAF military casualties, and the civilian casualties caused by the war and Coalition/ISAF friendly fire, have become a major political issue, both in Afghanistan and in the troop contributing nations. Increasing civilian casualties threaten the stability of President Hamid Karzai's government. Consequently, effective 2 July 2009, coalition air and ground combat operations were ordered to take steps to minimize Afghan civilian casualties in accordance with a tactical directive issued by General Stanley A. McChrystal, USA, the commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.[36] Another issue over the years has been a large number of 'insider' attacks involving Afghan soldiers opening fire on ISAF soldiers. While these have been diminishing, in part due to the planned ending of combat operations on 31 December 2014, they have continued, albeit at less frequency. On 5 August 2014, a gunman believed to have been an Afghan soldier opened fire on a number of international soldiers, killing a U.S. general and wounding about 15 officers and soldiers, including a German brigadier general and several U.S. soldiers, at a training academy near Kabul.[37]

ISAF command structure as of 2011[edit]

ISAF troops under NATO command (April 2009).

Throughout the four different regional stages of ISAF the number of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) began growing. The expansion of ISAF, to November 2006, to all provinces of the country brought the total number of PRTs to twenty-five. The twenty-fifth PRT, at Wardak, was established that month and was led by Turkey. Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum, at Brunssum, the Netherlands, was ISAF's superior NATO headquarters.[38] The headquarters of ISAF is located in Kabul. As of October 2010, there were 6 Regional Commands, each with subordinate Task Forces and Provincial Reconstruction Teams. The lower strength numbers of the ISAF forces are as of 6 October 2008.[39] The numbers also reflect the situation in the country. The north and west were relatively calm, while ISAF and Afghan forces in the south and east are almost under daily attack. As of December 2014 the force reportedly numbered 18,636 from 48 states.[40]

Kabul; Clock wise, Michael Mullen, David Petraeus, James Mattis, John Allen, Marvin L. Hill and German Army Gen. Wolf Langheld inside the ISAF headquarters in Kabul.

The new ISAF structure from August 2009

Camp Marmal in Mazar-i-Sharif,headquarters of Regional Command North.
Meeting of Italian and U.S. commanders at Regional Command West headquarters in Herat.

List of Commanders[edit]

The command of ISAF has rotated between officers of the participating nations. The first American took command in February 2007 and only Americans have commanded ISAF since that time.[54]

NamePhotoTerm beganTerm endedNotes
1.Lt Gen John C. McColl, BAGeneral Sir John McColl, Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, NATO.jpg10 January 200220 June 2002
2.Lt Gen Hilmi Akin Zorlu, TKK20 June 200210 February 2003
3.Lt Gen Norbert van Heyst, DHVan heyst 1024.jpg10 February 200311 August 2003
4.Lt Gen Götz Gliemeroth, DH11 August 20039 February 2004
5.Lt Gen Rick J. Hillier, CFRick Hillier in Colorado.png9 February 20049 August 2004
6.Lt Gen Jean-Louis Py, AT9 August 200413 February 2005
7.Lt Gen Ethem Erdağı, TKK13 February 20055 August 2005Former commander of 3rd Corps (Turkey)
8.Gen Mauro del Vecchio, EI5 August 20054 May 2006
9.Gen Sir David J. Richards, BAGen. Sir David Richards at NATO Summit in Chicago May 20, 2012.jpg4 May 20064 February 2007
10.Gen Dan K. McNeill, USADanMcNeill.jpg4 February 20073 June 2008
11.Gen David D. McKiernan, USADavidMckiernan.jpg3 June 200815 June 2009Relieved from command by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.[55]
12.Gen Stanley A. McChrystal, USAStanleyMcChrystal.jpg15 June 200923 June 2010Resigned and was relieved from command due to critical remarks directed at the Obama administration in a Rolling Stone Magazine article.[56]
13.Gen David H. Petraeus, USAGeneral David Petraeus.jpg4 July 201018 July 2011Nominated to become the fourth Director of the CIA.
14.Gen John R. Allen, USMCJohn Allen ISAF.jpg18 July 201110 February 2013Near the end of his term, General Allen became embroiled in an inappropriate communication investigation concerning his correspondences with Jill Kelley, and was later exonerated of any inappropriate activity.[57]
15.Gen Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., USMCDunford 2013.jpg10 February 201326 August 2014Nominated to become the 36th Commandant of the Marine Corps.
16.Gen John F. Campbell, USAGeneral John F. Campbell (ISAF).jpg26 August 201428 December 2014

Contributing nations[edit]

Convoy of U.S. forces passing by in Kapisa Province.

All NATO members have contributed troops to the ISAF, as well as some other partner states of the NATO. The numbers are based in part from NATO; when more recent numbers are available they are given.

Troop figures are as of the ISAF/NATO Placemat from 1 December 2014.[40]

NATO nations[edit]

A Bulgarian land forces up-armored M1114 patrol in Kabul, July 2009
Soldiers from the Canadian Grenadier Guards in Kandahar Province.
French units on duty with ISAF.
Norwegian soldiers in Faryab Province.
Polish forces in Afghanistan.
Romanian soldiers in southern Afghanistan in 2003.
Visiting politicians of Spain with soldiers of the Spanish army in 2010.
A Turkish brigadier during a food distribution in Afghanistan.
United Kingdom's Royal Air Force Flight Lieutenant Luke Meldon explains the components of an Afghan Air Force (AAF) C-27 Spartan to five Thunder Lab students.

Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) nations[edit]

U.S. President Barack Obama visiting wounded Georgian LTC Alexandre Tugushi.

Non-NATO and non-EAPC nations[edit]

An Australian Special Operations Task Group patrol in October 2009.


Resolution 1386 of the United Nations Security Council established that the expense of the ISAF operation must be borne by participating states. For this purpose the resolution established a trust fund through which contributions could be channelled to the participating states or operations concerned, and encouraged the participating states to contribute to such a fund.[124]

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]