II. International Forces Operating in Afghanistan

Since October 2001, the United States has deployed forces in Afghanistan under the banner of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in counter-terror and counter-insurgency operations against the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and other anti-government forces. The United States has approximately 19,000 forces operating independently of NATO command as part of OEF.3

OEF forces are based at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul and are deployed largely in eastern and southern areas along the Pakistani border. OEF operations are primarily staffed by paramilitary and intelligence forces of the Central Intelligence Agency, US military Special Operations Forces, and elements of the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was established by the United Nations on December 20, 2001. It came under NATO control on August 11, 2003. NATO operates a counter-insurgency mission in support of the Afghan government under UN Security Council Resolution 1386 and subsequent renewals and expansions.4 The NATO mission deploys forces from 26 NATO and 14 non-NATO contributing nations.5 As of June, 2008, ISAF had over 50,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan, plus approximately 2,000 troops from non-NATO contributing nations. The United States troop contributions to NATO are separate from those of Operation Enduring Freedom. NATO forces are headquartered in Kabul and deployed throughout the country, with the largest concentrations in the south. Its primary stated goal is to provide security for the Afghan government and the civilian population and to defend against insurgent operations.

Airpower in Afghanistan is primarily provided by strike aircraft of the United States, with British, French, and Dutch aircraft participating in a small minority of reported airstrikes. US aircraft participate in strikes for both OEF and NATO, while the non-US aircrafts operate only under NATO. Airstrikes are primarily performed by US aircraft; for example, according to records provided by Central Command Airforces (CENTAF), there were 87 US airstrikes and only 7 UK and 3 French airstrikes in December 2007.6

Source: International Security Assistance Force homepage updated with information on numbers of Troops in Afghanistan from the NATO Media Operations Center.

3 Tom Shanker, “Gates Pushing Plan for Afghan Army,” The New York Times, August 8, 2008.

4  United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1413, 1444, 1510, 1563, 1623, 1659, and 1707, (accessed July 1, 2008).

5 “NATO, ISAF Troop Contributing Nations,” April 1, 2008, (accessed July 1, 2008).

6 Email communication of Airpower Summary from U.S. Air Forces Central Public Affairs Combined Air and Space Operations Center, Southwest Asia, to Human Rights Watch.