2013 Volume 2013 Issue 174 Pages 174_125-174_138
The central role NATO played by ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) in Afghanistan was exceptional in its scope and intensity. The first steps of NATO into peacebuilding operations were in post Cold War Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo. In these two cases, NATO remained in the role of keeping the secure environment and did not step in to the administrative and reformative roles. These were done mainly by the UN and EU.
NATO took up its role in Afghanistan, partly in order to save the alliance from its biggest crisis. Initially, ISAF’s area of responsibility was limited to Kabul and its surroundings and its task was understood to be providing security. It soon had to take up reconstruction as local governments proved unable to provide basic services.
The Taliban reassembled itself within Pakistani northern territory and started to fight back from late 2005, causing severe damage. This led to the geographical and functional extension of ISAF operations. It expanded to cover the whole of Afghanistan in four stages, and its functions expanded. From the beginning,the PRTs (provincial reconstruction teams) contained inherent contradictions in that it brought together soldiers, diplomats and development specialists together, who had never before worked as a team. In many cases, soldiers and development specialists had different priorities and different time planning. The soldiers tended to opt for short term concrete projects which could “win the hearts and minds” of local people, whereas the development specialists preferred more long term sustainable projects which may not yield quick returns.
As the Tallibans regained control of southern Afghanistan, the security missions of ISAF started to include high-intensity fighting with insurgency. This led to a severe crisis of alliance relationships in that some countries were very reluctant to take up the fighting roles and even those who did, had to work under intense pressure of domestic politics in their home country. Canada and the Netherlands both tried to reconcile domestic politics and what it perceived to be alliance and international responsibilities. In the end they both had to bring back combat forces home earlier than the end of ISAF mission. What remained in the end for NATO were relatively low-intensity police and military personnel training mission.
The ISAF experience gives important lessons for future cases where international community will be asked to reconstruct states in the absence of general stability. We need to develop better insight into who can do which job best, and to respect each others’ logic and make room for different actors.