The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was created in December 2001 following the terrorist attacks on the United States (US) on 11 September 2001.

At the Bonn Conference in December 2001, anti-Taliban and regional leaders began the process of reconstructing Afghanistan by setting up the Afghan Transitional Authority. The Bonn Conference also invited the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to consider authorising the early deployment to Afghanistan of a United Nations-mandated force to assist in the maintenance of security for Kabul and its surrounding areas, noting that such a force could be progressively expanded to other urban areas and other areas.

ISAF works under a UNSC mandate. At first, this mandate was limited to providing security in and around Kabul (UNSC resolution 1386 of December 2001). The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) assumed ongoing leadership of ISAF in August 2003. Shortly afterwards, the UNSC extended ISAF’s mandate to cover the whole of Afghanistan (Resolution 1510 of October 2003).

US General David Petraeus assumed command of ISAF in June 2010. On 13 October 2010, the UNSC unanimously renewed ISAF’s mandate for a further year.


ISAF’s mission is to assist the Afghan government in the establishment of a secure and stable environment across the country. Its strategic objective is to transfer lead responsibility for security and governance to the Afghan authorities as conditions allow, permitting a phased draw-down of the international presence. ISAF is pursuing a comprehensive strategy focused on:

  • conducting operations together with the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to reduce the capability and will of the insurgency, • training, mentoring and equipping the Afghan army and police to build their capacity and capability, and
  • facilitating improvements in governance and socio-economic development, through Provincial Reconstruction Teams which work with the Afghan authorities and the UN to strengthen institutions and deliver basic services.

Prior to late 2005, ISAF was focused on a stabilisation mission. Since 2005, this mission moved to a counter insurgency focus, which was not adequately resourced until 2009. In 2009, ISAF gave increased priority to protecting key population centres and implementing a more effective civilian partnership with the Afghan government and with the United Nations (UN) to improve governance and development in secure areas – alongside an enhanced effort to train and mentor the ANSF and the ongoing campaign against insurgent networks. In support of this strategy, NATO appointed Mark Sedwill, the former UK Ambassador to Afghanistan, as its Senior Civilian Representative in January 2010 to establish a more effective civilian-military partnership. ISAF’s new strategy also includes a greater focus on partnership with Pakistan to address violent extremism in the border regions that threatens both Pakistan and Afghanistan.


Coalition forces in Afghanistan now number around 140,000, comprising 120,000 ISAF troops from 47 nations and an additional US 20,000 US troops under Operation Enduring Freedom.

ISAF has grown in membership and troop contributions over the last year in line with the revised ISAF strategy to accelerate the training and mentoring of Afghan forces and the progressive hand-over of security responsibility to them.

Between November 2009 and August 2010, the US increased its troop commitment to ISAF from 31,855 to 78,430, ISAF’s membership increased by five nations to a total of 47 and non-US troop numbers increased from 35,845 to 41,390. Between mid-2009 and today, Australia’s troop strength increased from 1,090 to an a

Australia’s Commitment in Afghanistan

Australia’s military contribution to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan is deployed under Operation SLIPPER. Australia’s military contribution includes around 1,550 Australian Defence Force personnel who are deployed within Afghanistan. 1241 are deployed in Uruzgan Province and around 300 in Kabul, Kandahar and elsewhere in Afghanistan. These numbers vary depending on operational requirements and shifting seasonal conditions. 830 personnel provide support from locations within the broader Middle East Area of Operations, including our maritime commitment. In keeping with the ISAF strategy to strengthen civilian engagement in Afghanistan and to better integrate civilian and military efforts, in April 2010 the Australian Government announced a 50 per cent increase in Australia’s civilian contribution to Afghanistan.

Australia now has around 50 civilians working in Afghanistan, in addition to around ten Defence civilians. Australia’s substantial military, civilian and development assistance focuses on:

  • training and mentoring the Afghan National Army 4th Brigade in Uruzgan province to assume responsibility for the province’s security,
  • building the capacity of the Afghan National Police to assist with civil policing functions in Uruzgan,
  • helping improve the Afghan Government’s capacity to deliver core services and generate income-earning opportunities for its people, and
  • operations to disrupt insurgent operations and supply routes utilising the Special Operations Task Group.

Combined Team – Uruzgan

Consistent with Australia’s mission in Afghanistan, our efforts are focused on training the Afghan National Security Forces to assume responsibility for security in the southern province of Uruzgan, and supporting improvements in development and governance in the province.

In Uruzgan, Australia works in partnership with the United States, New Zealand, Singapore, and Slovakia as the International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF) Combined Team – Uruzgan, which commenced on 1 August 2010 following the Dutch withdrawal. Australian contribution to Combined Team – Uruzgan (861 ADF) Australia contributes 861 Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel, 21 Australian Federal Police (AFP) personnel and nine civilian personnel to Combined Team – Uruzgan.

There are also a small number of Defence civilians in support.

The Australian contribution to Combined Team – Uruzgan consists of: Headquarters Combined Taskforce-Uruzgan (70 ADF) Australia provides 70 staff to the Combined Taskforce-Uruzgan headquarters, including the Deputy Commander. Combined Taskforce-Uruzgan provides command over all ISAF forces in Uruzgan Province. Mentoring Task Force (724 ADF).

Australia provides six military Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams who live with, train, mentor and provide support to their Afghan National Army 4th Brigade colleagues.