Blogging on Issues of International and European Security

ISAF 10 years on

by Andrew Sikorski

Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in the United States, the US invoked NATO’s mutual defence clause, as stipulated in Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. On 7 October 2001, the US led an offensive on the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, claiming that it was harbouring Osama Bin Laden, the then leader of the Al Qaeda network, which had claimed responsibility for the disaster. In December 2001, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was established, with the primary aim of facilitating the state-building of Afghanistan by fostering security and development[1], essentially by ridding the failed (or rogue, to use American parlance) state of the threat posed by the Taliban.

NATO officially assumed leadership of ISAF in 2003 but as the force reaches its tenth birthday, it appears salient to discuss the current status of the mission, given that the War in Afghanistan is costing the US approximately $2bn a week[2].  It was announced last year that NATO members intend to withdraw their troops by 2015, claiming that Afghan forces will be prepared to assume control of security and development. Yet 2010 saw the most coalition casualties since the war’s inception, whilst the month of May 2011 was the most fatal for coalition forces[3] which, incidentally, coincided with the death of Bin Laden. Despite his demise, Afghanistan remains an extremely dangerous place for ISAF personnel, in particular the border region with Pakistan which provides a vital supply route to NATO forces, and where 24 Pakistani soldiers were accidentally killed recently by a NATO airstrike at a border checkpoint[4].

In spite of official rhetoric claiming that Afghan forces are ready to take over their own security, events suggest that the threat posed by rebel forces remains extremely high. It has been questioned whether the war may ever be won[5] and in an increasingly multipolar world order, with the US feeling the burden of the financial crisis, perhaps the US may well indeed have pulled out by 2015. Yet, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, speaking recently in Bonn, suggested that international forces need to maintain their support after this date for at least another decade, declaring that Afghanistan’s “young democracy remains fragile”[6].Pakistan is currently boycotting talks in protest at the recent events on the border region and its presence is of paramount importance if the long-term peace strategy with the Taliban is to come to fruition. Failure on the part of the latter to come to the negotiation table will surely only delay development achievements.

Without firm assurances from either party, the human and economic costs of the operations are certain to continue in this multipolar era of ever more security threats.


[1] NATO-ISAF. About ISAF, n.d. http://www.isaf.nato.int/mission.html

[2] BBC News. Q&A: Foreign forces in Afghanistan, 20/07/2011. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-11371138

[3] BBC News. Q&A: Foreign forces in Afghanistan, 20/07/2011. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-11371138

[4] The Guardian. Obama offers Pakistan president his condolences over Nato air strike, 04/12/2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/dec/04/obama-pakistan-nato-air-strike

[5] The Telegraph. Afghanistan: can the war be won?, 13/06/2010. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/personal-view/7823555/Afghanistan-can-the-war-be-won.html

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This entry was posted on 08/12/2011 by in Opinions and tagged , , , .

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