The French engagement in Afghanistan
The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was deployed in 2001 under the authority of the United Nations Security Council, which authorized the establishment of the force, initially to help the Afghan Government "in the maintenance of security in Kabul and its surrounding areas, so that the Afghan Interim Authority as well as the personnel of the United Nations can operate in a secure environment" (UN Security Council Resolution 1386).
NATO took over the command of ISAF in August 2003 in the framework of the relevant Security Council resolutions. Originally limited to Kabul, ISAF gradually expanded between 2003 and 2006 to cover the entire territory of Afghanistan. The number of ISAF personnel increased accordingly, from 5,000 at the beginning of the mission to almost 50,000 in 2006. In the following years these numbers tripled, reaching almost 150,000 in 2010, before beginning to diminish in 2012 in the light of the mission ending in 2014.
ISAF is a coalition of willing nations acting under a Security Council mandate. It is not, strictly speaking, a United Nations peacekeeping force ("blue helmets"). 50 nations, including the 28 NATO member countries, contribute to it.
The main role of ISAF is to help the Afghan Government to create a stable and safe environment. To this end, ISAF units conduct operations to ensure security and stability throughout the country in coordination with the Afghan National Security Forces; they are directly involved in the development of the Afghan National Army, providing mentoring, training and equipment.
At the NATO Bucharest Summit of April 2008, Allies agreed to four essential principles, based on French proposals, to guide the work of the coalition – the "afghanization" of security responsibilities, the importance of an overall strategy focussing on economic development and the reinforcement of governance (rather than a purely military approach) and the importance of the regional approach.
At the Lisbon Summit of November 2010, the Heads of State and Government established the timetable for the implementation of this strategy: transfer of security responsibilities to the Afghans by 2014, it being understood that we would not abandon the Afghans to their fate at that time, but would continue to cooperate with them in another form.
The strategy decided upon at the Lisbon Summit (November 2010) has paid off. The Taliban insurgency is less able to threaten the very existence of Afghanistan. In particular, it has been possible to transfer security responsibilities to the Afghan authorities as the Afghan army and police have been meeting their objectives in terms of quality and quantity. The ANSF have met the target of 352,000 men. They conducted more than 80% of operations in the last combat season.
The Heads of State and Government noted this development at the Chicago Summit and confirmed that ISAF’s mission would end on 31 December 2014. A number of countries have, in this contexte, thus been able to begin withdrawing their troops. In the second half of 2012, for example, the United States repatriated all the reinforcement (surge) elements which had arrived in theatre since 2010. ISAF consisted of 103,126 troops as at 31 January 2013.
France has not merely contributed to ISAF strategy and supported it politically - it has also played a decisive part in its implementation in the field in those regions for which it was responsible. This made it possible to begin the transition in 2009 in Regional Command Centre (Kabul), where France had been active since 2006, then in the Surobi District in January 2012, and finally in Kapisa Province in spring 2012.
In Chicago, President Hollande confirmed that France would start withdrawing non-combatant troops before the end of 2012. Since 31 December 2012, therefore, the only personnel left on Afghan soil are those necessary for the redeployment and protection of our equipment, as well as the personnel still assigned to ISAF (about 500 people working on the training of Afghan security forces, at the airport command and at the military hospital in Kabul). Although it is withdrawing its forces, France intends to continue helping Afghanistan in the framework of the treaty of friendship and cooperation concluded between the two countries in 2012.
The stability of Afghanistan will depend largely on the country’s ability to reinforce its governance, develop economically and become part of a positive regional process. In this respect, Afghanistan will be able to count on the support of the international community, as promised at the international conferences in Bonn and Tokyo in 2012.
The country’s progress in this direction will also depend largely on the ability of the Afghan forces to take over responsibility for national security. It is therefore crucial for these security forces to remain in a state of readiness. This is first and foremost the responsibility of the Afghans themselves: they will play an increasingly important role, including in terms of finance. The support provided by the international community will be gradually reduced.
For its part, NATO will contribute to the professionalization of the Afghan security forces; in Chicago, NATO and Afghanistan paved the way for a future mission to train, advise and assist these forces. It will take over from ISAF on 1 January 2015. This mission - which will not be a combat mission - will be in charge of continuing support to the professionalization of the Afghan forces, which will be downsized (the plan is to reduce to 228,500 as compared with 352,000 at present).
In the longer term, NATO-Afghanistan cooperation will continue in the framework of an "enduring partnership", the foundations of which were laid at the Lisbon Summit in 2010.