ISAF History

NATO's Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan began in 2015, after transitioning from the International Security Assistance Force (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 at 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.

On Aug. 11, 2003 NATO assumed leadership of the ISAF operation, ending the six-month national rotations. 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 likely to take over leadership responsibility, to play a strong role within a multinational headquarters.

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.


In December 2003, the North Atlantic Council authorized Supreme Allied Commander Gen. 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 U.S.-led military operation in Afghanistan.

On Dec. 31, 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.

On June 28, 2004, at the summit meeting of the NATO Heads of State and Government in Istanbul, NATO announced it would establish PRTs in Mazar-e-Sharif, Meymana, Feyzabad and Baghlan, all in northern Afghanistan.

This process was completed Oct. 1, 2004, marking completion of the first phase of ISAF’s expansion. ISAF’s area of operations then covered some 3,600 square kilometers in the north and the mission was able to influence security in country's nine northern provinces.


On Feb. 10, 2005, NATO announced ISAF would expand into the west of Afghanistan.

This process began May 31, 2006, when ISAF took command of two additional PRTs in the provinces of Herat and Farah and of a forward support base (for logistics) 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 Baghdis province, completing ISAF’s westward expansion.

After this expansion of ISAF's mission, the command led a total of nine PRTs in the north and the west, providing security assistance in 50 percent of Afghanistan’s territory. The alliance continued to make preparations to further expand to the Afghan south.

In September 2005, the alliance also temporarily deployed 2,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to support the Sept. 18 provincial and parliamentary elections.

Stage 3: To the South

On Dec. 8, 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 July 31, 2006, when ISAF assumed command of the southern region of Afghanistan from U.S.-led Coalition forces, expanding its area of operations to cover an additional six provinces – Day Kundi, Helmand, Kandahar, Nimroz, Uruzgan and Zabul – and taking 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 Oct. 5, 2006, ISAF implemented the final stage of its expansion, by taking on command of the international military forces in eastern Afghanistan from the U.S.-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 OMLTs to Afghan National Army units at various levels of command.

ISAF transitions to NATO's Resolute Support mission

January 1, 2015, the ISAF era came to an end when the command transitioned to NATO's Resolute Support mission. The new mission focuses on training, advising and assisting the Afghan government and security forces in pursuit of a strong, stable Afghanistan.

ISAF Commanders
 December 2001 to June 2002     Major General John McColl, UK
 June 2002 to February 2003  Major General Hilmi Akin Zorlu, Turkey
 February 2003 to August 2003  Lieutenant General Van Heyst, Germany
 August 2003 to February 2004  Lieutenant General Goetz Gliemeroth, Germany
 February 2004 to August 2004  Lieutenant General Rick Hillier, Canada
 August 2004 to February 2005  General Jean-Louis Py, France
 February 2005 to August 2005  General Ethem Erdagi, Turkey
 August 2005 to May 2006  General Mauro del Vecchio, Italy
 May 2006 to February 2007  General David Richards, UK
 February 2007 to June 2008  General Dan K. McNeill, USA
 June 2008 to June 2009  General David D. McKiernan, USA
 June 2009 to June 2010  General Stanley A. McChrystal, USA
 June 2010 to July 2010  Lieutenant General Sir Nick Parker, UK (Interim Commander)
 July 2010 to July 2011  General David H. Petraeus, USA
 July 2011 to February 2013  General John R. Allen, USMC
 February 2013 to August 2014  General Joseph F. Dunford, USMC
 August 2014 to January 2015  General John F. Campbell, USA

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