International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)

International Information

International Operation Name: International Security Assistance Force

International Mission Name: International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)

Mandating Organization: Agreement on Provisional Arrangements in Afghanistan (Bonn Agreement)

Region Name: Asia

Location: Afghanistan

Mission Date: 5 December 2001 – Present

Mission Mandate: ISAF's primary role is to support the Government of Afghanistan (GOA) in providing and maintaining a secure environment in order to facilitate the re-building of Afghanistan

Mission/Operation Notes: The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the resistance it provoked began a period of continuous civil war, and even the Soviets’ departure in 1988 did little to resolve the situation. Warlords and militia leaders who had worked together to oust the Soviet-backed regime now jostled for power, sometimes switching allegiances in breathtakingly short spans of time. By 2001 the Taliban had gained control of 80 percent of the country, and although by everyone’s accounting they could be described as religious fundamentalists there was nevertheless hope that they might bring stability to the country. However, the Taliban were also providing shelter to (and helping to train) the terrorists of Al Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, and when they refused to hand over bin Laden after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, the United Nations and NATO backed efforts to unseat this terrorist-supporting regime. The resulting military operation, named Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, was part of the greater “Campaign Against Terrorism”.

The United Nations had actually been involved in providing aid to Afghanistan and its refugees since before the Soviet departure. In addition, UN representatives had been attempting to reconcile the various groups within the country and provide a stable government and peace. With the American-led attack upon the Taliban, the possibility for reconciliation increased among those who were opposed to the regime, and in December 2001, a number of prominent Afghans met in Bonn, Germany under the auspices of the United Nations. On 5 December they signed the Agreement on Provisional Arrangements in Afghanistan Pending the Re-establishment of Permanent Government Institutions, known as the Bonn Agreement, witnessed by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan. The Agreement created an Afghan Interim Authority, composed of 30 members, who would govern the country. Their goal was to create within six months the conditions for a Transitional Authority that would lead to a Loya Jirga (the traditional Afghan Grand Council) in two years. The Interim Authority was inaugurated in Kabul on 22 December 2001, with the Loya Jirga taking place in June 2002.

The Afghan Interim Authority knew that they would face a daunting task, having to not only rebuild the entire economy and infrastructure of the country but also to re-establish the tools of government, all the while reconciling independent-minded warlords and defeating the Taliban who still remained a power in Afghanistan. On 4 January 2002 the AIA signed a Military Technical Agreement with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

ISAF is an ad-hoc organization, composed mainly of NATO members, formed to provide assistance to the AIA. Under the offer of the United Kingdom to organize and lead ISAF, on 10 January 2002 Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the United Kingdom signed a joint Memorandum of Understanding in London, formalising their contributions to the force. Belgium signed the Memorandum later while Bulgaria agreed to contribute personnel. On 14 March, the Czech Republic signed the Memorandum, offering to contribute a military field hospital.

Although not a United Nations operation, ISAF operates under a UN mandate issued under a Chapter VII Security Council Resolution 1386 of 20 December 2001. The mandate has been expanded and altered three times, under Resolutions 1413, 23 May 2002, 1444, 27 November 2002 and 1510, 13 October 2003, all of which were Chapter VII mandates. These mandates authorized ISAF to support the AIA, the ATA and the Government of Afghanistan. The initial mandates were for the area around Kabul; however, this was expanded in Resolution 1510, which allowed ISAF to operate in any area of Afghanistan at the request of Afghani authorities.

Pending the arrival of ISAF forces – the first of the 5,000 arrived in Kabul on 1 January 2002 – British troops already in Afghanistan provided an interim force. Among the tasks ISAF performed were providing security in Kabul, disposing of munitions, training the new Afghan National Army, and disarming the various militia groups. Patrols of Kabul were conducted with the Kabul City Police. On a political level, ISAF worked closely with the Afghani authorities and the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan (see separate entry).

ISAF also collaborated with non-governmental organisations and United Nations relief agencies to coordinate, provide, and protect humanitarian operations, infrastructure repair, and emergency relief following natural disasters like the 25 March 2002 earthquake in the North. Its support to the Afghan authorities was designed to allow the Afghans to take the lead and develop their own institutions and capabilities as quickly as possible. Joint patrols were conducted with the Afghan military and Kabul City Police, but when it came to raids and other operations where force was involved, ISAF supported, rather than led, to reaffirm the fact that its goal was to assist, not supplant, local authority. After 23 years of civil war, and in a city with over 3.5 million people, many of whom were displaced and living in shanty towns and refugee camps, this was not an easy task. In December 2003, the North Atlantic Council authorised NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander to expand the mission to include a German-led Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kunduz. Similar teams in other areas would follow. Initially ISAF was led by the United Kingdom, followed by Turkey and then jointly by German and the Netherlands. Canada assumed command of ISAF in February 2004.

Canadian Forces (CF) Information (ATHENA)


Date: 14 May 2003 – Present

Canadian Task Force Name Mission Statement: ISAF's primary role is to support the Government of Afghanistan (GOA) in providing and maintaining a secure environment in order to facilitate the re-building of Afghanistan

CF Mission/Operation Notes: Canada joined the campaign against terror and participated in Operation ENDURING FREEDOM under the Canadian Operation APOLLO, and it wished to maintain its presence in Afghanistan after the latter’s termination. Accordingly, on 12 February 2003 the Minister of National Defence announced that Canada would participate in ISAF, operating in the southern and western sectors of Kabul that included both rural and urban districts as well as the “Arab” quarter. Under the name Operation ATHENA, a two-thousand strong battle group would deploy beginning in August. The CDS operation order was issued on 14 May 2003, and shortly thereafter a Theatre Activation Team was despatched to set up the camp and the facilities required for the main contingent. The last member of the TAF returned to Canada on 8 August.

The battle group formed around the 3rd Battalion, The Royal Canadian Regiment, and subsequently the 3rd Battalion, Royal 22e Régiment, which deployed in January 2004. Each battle group included an armoured reconnaissance squadron, a health services support company, and engineers – all supported by a national control element and a national support element that included a 200-person base in the Arabian Gulf.

The battle groups conducted a multitude of tasks. They patrolled the streets of Kabul in their area of responsibility, often with the Kabul City police, 3 R22R alone conducting over 3,800 patrols and manning over 880 checkpoints in six months. The Field Engineer Squadrons built explosives demolition ranges where they destroyed seized ammunition. In terms of humanitarian assistance, they rebuilt and repaired schools, orphanages, and public utilities, and helped secure the donation of much-needed equipment and supplies for these initiatives as well as for the Kabul police.

Canada reduced its commitment to ISAF to seven hundred, all ranks, in August 2004 in order to provide the army with a pause from the high operational tempo. Instead of a full battle group, the next three rotations would be built around an armoured reconnaissance squadron and an infantry company, supported by a health services support company, and national control and national support elements. Some of the rotations also had an engineer squadron attached. The infantry companies provided a quick reaction force for ISAF, escorted convoys and conducted foot and mounted patrols in their sector of Kabul. The recce squadrons served as the Kabul Multinational Brigade's armoured reconnaissance squadron, providing intelligence-gathering and support observation to ISAF and conducting mounted patrols alone and in support of other ISAF forces. These operations netted both known terrorists and foreign nationals.

Op ATHENA saw the introduction of new equipment into the Canadian Forces. Four Sperwer Unmanned Aerial Vehicles were bought and used to provide a reconnaissance capability. Over 1100 Mercedes Gelaende Class (G-Class) wagons were purchased to replace the older Volkswagen Iltis, one hundred of which were sent to Op Athena. The G-Wagons featured improved armoured protection against small arms fire, mines, and improvised explosive devices. Op ATHENA also saw the first major deployment of the LAV III armoured vehicle. The Nyala mine clearance vehicle also deployed on this operation. In addition, two explosive-sniffing dogs were acquired in mid-2005 to provide an explosives detection capability as a result of improvised explosive devices being found in Kabul.

Canadian officers have held a number of senior appointments in ISAF. On 17 July 2003, Brigadier-General P.J. Devlin assumed command of the Kabul Multinational Brigade, the operational headquarters for ISAF. Major-General A. Leslie was Deputy Commander of ISAF for six months beginning in June 2003, while Lieutenant-General R. Hillier commanded ISAF from 9 February to 8 August 2004. Lieutenant-General Hillier’s command coincided with the North Atlantic Council expanding ISAF’s mandate in February 2004 to other parts of the country.

The first Op ATHENA series officially ended on 18 October 2005 after a provincial reconstruction team in Kandahar stood up under the name Operation ARCHER and operated under the Campaign Against Terrorism rather than ISAF. The last Canadian assets were removed from Kabul’s Camp Julien on 29 November and the camp was then turned over to the Afghan Ministry of Defence and to German forces. Overall, about 7,000 personnel served in this phase of Operation ATHENA.

On 31 July 2006, ISAF assumed control of operations in six southern provinces of Afghanistan. These included the Canadian area of control around Kandahar. Accordingly, most of the personnel of Op ARCHER now came under a renewed Op ATHENA, as the mission had reverted to ISAF. However, the rotation numbers for the subsequent deployments continued from the Op ARCHER series and not from the previous Op ATHENA numbers.

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