International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)

11 January 2002 - 28 December 2014
Military personnel

In February 1989, the Soviet Union withdrew its forces from Afghanistan after more than 10 years of occupation. The communist regime held out until April 1992, when Kabul was captured by mujahedeen troops.

In 1994, a new military power emerged unexpectedly, the Taliban (plural of Talib, which simply means religious student), mainly from Koran schools (madrassas) in Pakistan. They captured large parts of the country within a few years. Only in the north did a few mujahedeen groups, united in the Northern Alliance, hold their ground.

Al Qaida attacks

In the war against the Soviet Union, one of the sources of support for the Afghan resistance had been Al Qaida (which means 'the base’). After the fall of the communist regime, Osama bin Laden set up his base in Sudan and built Al Qaida up into a sizeable international terrorist network. Under pressure from the United States, the Sudanese government closed its doors to Al Qaida in 1996. Osama bin Laden and his followers found a new refuge in the Taliban’s Afghanistan. On 11 September 2001 – ‘9/11’ – Al Qaida carried out attacks in New York and Washington DC. The United States responded by invoking Article 51 of the United Nations Charter (the right to self-defence) and declared war on terror. The United States applied considerable pressure on the Taliban regime to extradite the perpetrators of the terrorist attacks. The uncooperative attitude of the government in Kabul prompted the decision by the United States to launch an attack on 7 October.

Bonn Agreement

Representatives of the main ethnic, political and religious groups in Afghanistan, with the exception of the Taliban, signed the Bonn agreement on 5 December 2001. In Bonn, the member states of the United Nations were asked to play an active part in setting up a new army and police apparatus. In the meantime, a UNSC-mandated peace force would assist the Afghan authorities in maintaining security in Kabul and the surrounding area.

On 20 December 2001 (resolution 1386), the Council approved the establishment of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). The Bonn Agreement also kept open the option of extending the ISAF mandate to the rest of the country, although the Security Council did not mandate ISAF explicitly in this regard until 13 October 2003 (resolution 1510).

The 1st expansion phase, which was known as ISAF ‘phase II’, was carried out by deploying Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in the northern and western provinces. On 1 August 2006, NATO became operational in the south of Afghanistan during ‘phase III’ and on 5 October 2006, when ‘phase IV’ started, NATO assumed command of the whole country. The US-led operation Enduring Freedom did, however, remain active in Afghanistan in parallel with ISAF.

Updated: 1 November 2009