Afghanistan: The Other War

Operation Start Over Again

Since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan ousted the Taliban in late 2001 and the search began for Osama bin Laden, the course has not run smooth for coalition forces. Bin Laden is still at large and the Taliban are on the offensive again, gaining physical ground as well as currency with disillusioned Afghans -- particularly in the south and east of the country. Today, a NATO coalition of 37 nations, with the United States still the predominant force, is tasked with securing peace in Afghanistan.

Roll over the buttons on the left side to learn more about the most recent military and tactical operations underway and where the Taliban strongholds are.

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NATO's Objectives and Mission

Before the Bonn Agreement was signed in December 2001 establishing a new post-Taliban government, Afghanistan had no functioning security forces. Under the agreement mandated by the United Nations Security Council, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was created to help the new Afghan government stabilize and exert its authority across the country. For the first few years, the international force remained in Kabul and was led on a rotational basis by different nations.

NATO took command of the ISAF mission in August 2003 and expanded it to the northern provinces in October 2004 and to the western provinces in September 2005. By the fall of 2006, operations had spread into the south and the east, completing the expansion of the mission.

Once command bases were established across the country, NATO launched a military offensive against the Taliban as part of its U.N. mandate to bring enough security to the country to begin reconstruction. ISAF spokespeople regularly stress that security operations are planned at the request of the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. At the Afghanistan Compact summit held in London in January 2006, the Afghan government reaffirmed its support for the international coalition.


As of April 2007, the NATO-led ISAF had 35,460 troops in Afghanistan, with contributions from 37 nations. The top three contributing nations are the United States, Britain and Canada, with 14,000, 5,200 and 2,500 troops, respectively. Italy, the Netherlands, France and Germany also have strong contingents. An additional 8,000 U.S. troops were sent as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, the name given to the original U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan following the attacks of 9/11.

At a meeting of NATO nations in Riga, Latvia, late last year, NATO pledged an additional 7,000 troops to Afghanistan to bring the total to 39,000. But tensions at the meeting were high as the United States, Britain and Canada complained of shouldering most of the difficult combat operations on their own with little promise of more support from other member nations.


As the NATO mission stands, it is divided into five phases:

Phase 1 -- Assessment and preparation, including operations in Kabul (completed)

Phase 2 -- Geographic expansion (completed)

Phase 3 -- Stabilization (ongoing)

Phases 4/5 -- Transition and redeployment

The Security Council has already extended ISAF's mission a number of times, and NATO officials have said they will stay in Afghanistan for as long as it takes to restore peace and security. Based on the assessment of senior analysts close to operations, this could mean anywhere from 10 to 30 more years.

Reconstruction and Training

The international community has pledged $4.5 billion over five years to reconstruct Afghanistan. Various reconstruction efforts are under way across the country, led by teams of soldiers from different nations. Working with provincial governors, the United Nations and private contractors, the teams have mainly focused on rebuilding schools, medical clinics and roads. Most Provincial Reconstruction Team projects are on a small scale, with 25 currently in progress. But ISAF says it plans to have reconstruction projects in all 34 provinces. Among the nearly 36,000 troops in Afghanistan, only 2,000 to 2,500 are part of the reconstruction effort. In addition to fighting insurgents and helping rebuild infrastructure, another key role of NATO is training the Afghan National Army, which is a little more than halfway to its goal of being 70,000-strong by 2009.

TEXT: Roya Aziz
SOURCES: NATO International Security Assistance Force; United Nations Security Council.

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