NATO led the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from August 2003 to December 2014. ISAF’s mission was to enable the Afghan authorities and build the capacity of the Afghan national security forces to ensure that Afghanistan would never again be a safe haven for terrorists.
ISAF was NATO’s longest and most challenging mission to date. At its height, the force was more than 130,000 strong, with troops from 50 NATO and partner nations.
ISAF also contributed to reconstruction and development in Afghanistan through 28 multinational Provincial Reconstruction Teams.
The transition to Afghan lead for security started in 2011 and was completed in December 2014, when the ISAF operation ended and the Afghans assumed full responsibility for security of their country.
In January 2015, NATO launched Resolute Support (RS), a non-combat mission to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces and institutions.
At the NATO Summit in Warsaw on July 8-9, 2016, Heads of State and Government decided to sustain RS beyond 2016, using a flexible, regional model which would continue to deliver training, advice and assistance to the Afghan security institutions, including the police, air force, and special operations forces. They also committed to keeping the mission and its design under review.
Ahead of the meeting of NATO leaders in Brussels on May 25, 2017, Allies and RS operational partners reaffirmed the decisions taken in Warsaw. They noted that the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF) were improving, whilst still requiring support; and they agreed to continue the mission.
At the meeting of Defence Ministers on November 9, 2017, leaders from the 39 troop contributing nations to RS addressed four key issues: the troop level of the mission, funding for the Afghan forces, progress on reforms and reconciliation, and continued engagement with Pakistan. After the United States announced their South Asia Strategy, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced that the size of RS would increase from around 13,000 to 16,000 troops in 2018.
On July 12, 2018, at the NATO Summit held in Brussels, the Heads of State and Government of Allied and partners’ troop contributing nations to RS met, and once again reaffirmed their commitment to Afghanistan’s lasting security. A joint statement was issued at the end of the meeting, reaffirming the shared commitment to Afghanistan’s long-term security and stability and welcoming the progress made by the Afghan security forces and institutions. In the statement, NATO Allies and operational partners announced their commitment to: sustain the non-combat mission until conditions indicate a change in the mission is appropriate; extend financial sustainment of the Afghan forces through 2024; and make further progress on developing a political and practical partnership with Afghanistan. For its part, Afghanistan committed to continue its efforts towards reform by further strengthening its security forces and institutions, combatting corruption and organizing and holding credible, free, fair, and inclusive parliamentary and presidential elections in 2018 and 2019, respectively.
Parliamentary elections were held in Afghanistan in October 2018 to elect members of the House of the People. The new Parliament was inaugurated on April 26, 2019.
Also in the fall of 2018, the United States adjusted its campaign plan to intensify pressure on the Taliban to drive the group to participate in negotiations to end the Afghan war.
The Presidential Election occurred on September 28, 2019, and the Taliban attempted to undermine it through high profile attacks, civilian casualties and intimidation. However, with effective advising by NATO, and by applying lessons learned from the 2018 elections, the Afghan security forces successfully secured polling sites and facilitated voting.
In February 2020, the United States and the Taliban signed a peace agreement in Doha, Qatar, officially titled the Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan. The provisions of the deal include the withdrawal of all American and NATO troops from Afghanistan, a Taliban pledge to prevent al-Qaeda from operating in areas under Taliban control, and talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
NATO Allies welcomed the start of intra-Afghan peace negotiations, announced at a ceremony in Doha on 12 September 2020. They urged the Afghan government and the Taliban to keep their commitments and work towards a comprehensive peace agreement that puts an end to violence and builds on the progress of the last 19 years to safeguard human rights, uphold the rule of law, and ensure that Afghanistan never again serves as a haven for terrorists. Conditions-bases adjustments will be made to RS to support the peace efforts. At the same time, Allies remain committed to training and funding the Afghan security forces.
RS has focused its advisory efforts on “decisive people, places and processes” that have the greatest impact on ANDSF development, make a positive contribution to campaign objectives, and increase the immediate return on investment. RS efforts to optimize its advising mission involves a networked approach across the Coalition, from the ministerial to the tactical level, to better align all efforts. Sustained levels of violence and ANDSF casualties contributed to ANDSF attrition outpacing recruitment and retention.
As of January 2021, the RS mission numbered around 10,000 troops from 36 NATO Allies and partner countries.