Resolute Support [NATO]
US forces carried out two complementary missions under the military operation known as Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (OFS): counterterrorism operations against al Qaeda, its affiliates, and ISIL-K in Afghanistan; and support for NATO’s Resolute Support capacity-building effort, which sought to build the capacity of the MoD and MoI and to strengthen the ANDSF. OFS began on January 1, 2015, when the United States ended 13 years of combat operations in Afghanistan under Operation Enduring Freedom and transitioned to a NATO-led train, advise, and assist role, while continuing U.S. counterterrorism operations. At that point, the Afghan government assumed full responsibility for the security of Afghanistan with limited U.S. or coalition support on the battlefield.
NATO launched its non-combat RS Mission on January 1, 2015, following the conclusion of the previous NATO led combat mission of ISAF and the assumption of full security responsibility by the ANDSF. The NATO Afghanistan Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which entered into force on January 1, 2015, provides the legal framework for the NATO presence in Afghanistan and prescribes the terms and conditions under which NATO forces will be deployed in Afghanistan.
The NATO-led RS mission remains focused on training, advising, and assisting the ANDSF, the MoD, and the MoI to achieve and maintain a stable Afghanistan during a period of conflict. The United States continues to consult with NATO Allies and operational partners about RS mission requirements and any follow-on NATO-led efforts to ensure that the U.S. and NATO missions are mutually supportive. RS force-contributing nations strongly supported the new South Asia Strategy, and welcomed the U.S. personnel increase and the transition to a conditions-based approach.
On the campaign trail, Trump was repeatedly and vehemently critical of past US policy in the Middle East, particularly the strategy of training and arming local militias to indirectly achieve military, political and economic goals in the region. The Taliban called on Trump to quickly exit Afghanistan given that over a decade and a half of US involvement had done little to end regional violence and instability. "The responsibility to bring to an end this war also rests on your shoulders," the Taliban said in an official statement.
At the end of May 2014, 48 nations were contributing troops to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan, including 21 non-NATO partners. At that time, the United States contributed 32,800 (or about 66 percent) of the ISAF total troop strength,2 which declined from an average of 68,000 U.S. troops in FY 2013.3 As the combat mission continues to drawdown, the United States would maintain a commitment to Afghanistan’s sovereignty and security, and would continue to equip, train, advise, and assist the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF); support economic development and governance efforts; and pursue counterterrorism goals against al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups.
On May 27, 2014, the President announced a plan to end the US combat mission in Afghanistan in December 2014. At the beginning of 2015, and contingent upon the Afghans signing a Bilateral Security Agreement and a status of forces agreement with NATO, the United States will execute the Resolute Support train, advise, and assist mission, with 9,800 service members in different parts of the country, along with NATO allies and partners.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said 28 December 2014 “At the end of this year, as our Afghan partners assume responsibility for the security of their country, the United States officially concludes Operation Enduring Freedom. … In 2015, we begin our follow-on mission -- Operation Freedom's Sentinel -- to help secure and build upon the hard-fought gains of the last 13 years.”
By the end of 2015, the United States would reduce that presence by roughly half, consolidating US troops in Kabul and on Bagram Airfield. By the end of 2016, the United States will drawdown to a normal embassy presence in Kabul, with a security assistance component, as was done in Iraq. Beyond 2014, the mission of U.S. troops will be training Afghan forces and supporting counterterrorism operations against the remnants of al-Qaeda.
The US mission in Afghanistan includes military, diplomatic, and development programs, personnel, and assets. The FY 2014 Budget for the United States provided $85.2 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) to the Department of Defense (DoD) and a combined $6.5 billion to the Department of State (DOS) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
Awaiting the President’s decision on the size of the residual force in Afghanistan, the President’s FY 2015 budget includes a placeholder for DoD’s 2015 OCO funding in the amount of $79.4 billion; and provides $5.9 billion to DOS and USAID for their OCO activities, including operations and assistance in Afghanistan.6 The President’s FY 2015 OCO budget request would include funding for the U.S. advisory and counterterrorism mission, support for NATO allies in Afghanistan, and an increasingly consolidated US military presence. It would also include continued material and financial assistance to the ANSF.
NATO’s primary objective in Afghanistan is to enable the Afghan authorities to provide effective security across the country and ensure the country can never again be a safe haven for terrorists. Since August 2003, the NATO-led ISAF has been conducting security operations, while also training and developing the ANSF. Launched in 2011, the transition to full Afghan security responsibility is due to be completed by the end of 2014, when ISAF’s mission would transition to the follow-on mission to train, advise and assist the ANSF and contribute to the long-term sustainment of those forces.
Wider cooperation would also continue within the framework of the NATO-Afghanistan Enduring Partnership, signed in 2010 at the Lisbon Summit. NATO’s Senior Civilian Representative in Afghanistan carries forward the Alliance’s political-military objectives, liaising with the Afghan government, civil society, representatives of the international community and neighboring countries.
US President Barack Obama proposed new guidelines which would allow US troops to engage Taliban fighters, not only al-Qaeda terrorists, and also provide for US air support when required. Obama authorized the US troops in Afghanistan to carry out missions against militant groups, including Taliban, that threaten them or the Afghan government, as well as to support combat missions of the Afghan troops using jets, bombers and drones, the New York Times reported 22 November 2014, citing administration, military and congressional officials. The decision was made amid tensions in the president's administration between supporters and opponents of America's further involvement in Afghanistan, the newspaper added.
Afghanistan's parliament approved two bilateral security agreements, one with the United States and another separately with NATO, permitting international troops to remain in Afghanistan past the end of the year. Afghan Parliament speaker Abdul Raouf Ibrahimi announced on November 23, that a majority of deputies had voted in favor of the security agreements. The new Afghan government signed the two agreements on September 30. The new agreements approved by the Afghan parliament, allow the US and NATO to keep a total of 12,000 troops in Afghanistan next year to support local forces.
Resolute Support was all about is trying to get the Afghans above the tactical level to the operational and strategic level. The advisers would focus on the ministerial and institutional levels to work systems, processes, and professionalize the force. The US focused those efforts along eight essential functions. That's everything from planning, programming, budgeting, execution, to sustainment, to planning.
In 2015, the ANSF has full responsibility. So as they keep working their MI-17 program, their MI-35 program, the MD-530s, the A-29s, all the things that they're trying to complement, supplement, air weapons teams, that would be their version of close air support. What's yet to be defined explicitly as of late 2014 was coalition assets in support of ANSF, based on what types of operations they're doing and, again, what the strategic consequences may be based on where they find themselves, what situations they get into, based on what the enemy threat evolves into here for 2015.
As of desertions, the goal is a 1.4 percent AWOL rate between the army and police. By late 2014 the army had gone down some. The police had gone up some. Their first priority is to get their recruiting back up. The tashkils is their manning document. The police are about 89 percent and the army is about 81 percent fill.
ANSF killed in action were 4,350 for 2013 and 4,634 for 2014. This is not sustainable. They do need to decrease their casualty rate. They've done -- as we talked earlier about their MEDEVAC capabilities, how you continue to improve quality of care at the point of injury all the way through evacuation to a hospital. All those things have to continue to improve to reduce those numbers because those numbers are not sustainable in the long term.
By 2015 the four coalition framework nations maintained a central “hub” in Kabul and a regional presence in four “spokes” in the north, south, east, west, and capital regions of the country through the TAACs. Turkey leads TAAC-Capital (TAAC-C) in the Kabul area, the United States leads TAAC-East (TAAC-E) and TAAC-South (TAAC-S), Italy leads TAAC-West (TAAC-W), and Germany leads TAAC-North (TAAC-N). Personnel at each TAAC conduct training and provide advice and assistance to their Afghan counterparts depending on the need identified by the coalition and their Afghan partners. In addition, the Advise and Assist Directorate (AAD) provides oversight of regional Advise and Assist Cells which cover two ANA corps with expeditionary advising support while TAAC-Air provides TAA support to the AAF. The TAACs and the AACs are critical touchpoints with the ANDSF that allow the coalition to verify and validate Afghan reporting at the ANA corps and police equivalent level while reinforcing the importance of building and improving the systems and processes that support combat operations.
General John W. Nicholson, the Commander of Resolute Support and USFOR-A, assessed the security situation in Afghanistan at the end of 2016 as “an equilibrium, but one that’s in favor of the [Afghan] government.” In characterizing the performance of the Afghan security forces, he stated “they were tested and they prevailed” by preventing Taliban capture of provincial capitals.
However, in its November 2016 threat assessment, the Institute for the Study of War stated that the Afghan government remains highly dependent on current levels of U.S. support to sustain the ANDSF and maintain security in territory now controlled by the Afghan government. Further, the assessment reported that the ANDSF is “incapable of recapturing significant swaths of Taliban-secured territory” at current levels of U.S. support.
Following unrelenting combat throughout 2016, the ANDSF expected to transition during the winter months to operations focusing on training, force regeneration, developing leadership, on securing gains made over the summer in government controlled areas. According to media sources, Afghan military planning capacity had improved as illustrated by the high quality of ANDSF campaign plans for both last summer and this winter.
As of mid 2018 the United States, Germany, Italy, and Turkey served as the RS mission “framework nations,” each leading a regional Train, Advise, and Assist Command (TAAC) responsible for coordinating support and capabilities within its respective command region. Two regional task forces (TF) conduct TAA missions with the ANDSF, one in the southeast and one in the southwest. The RS support to the ANDSF focused on organizational and functional based TAA.
The regional TAACs cover four of the six ANA corps and the associated regional Afghan National Police (ANP) zone headquarters. The two regional task forces, TF Southeast and TF Southwest, oversaw persistent advising with the Afghan National Army (ANA) 203rd and 215th Corps; and ANP Zone 303 and Zone 505, respectively. The TAACs and TFs served as the principal connections between the Afghan ministries and fielded forces. The field commands played a central role in the coalition’s ability to assess the efficacy of its ministerial advising efforts, to determine the ministries’ ability to support ongoing ANDSF security operations, and to provide an outer ring of sensors and security for the coalition. In addition, coalition forces provide limited non-combat enabler support, primarily ISR and MEDEVAC, to the ANDSF as the Afghans continue to field and develop their organic capabilities.
The U.S.-led NATO mission in Afghanistan was no longer collecting data showing the Afghan government steadily losing ground to the Taliban, telling a U.S. government watchdog the information was “of limited decision-making value.” The so-called district-level stability assessments, which measure the number of the country’s districts under government or insurgent control or influence, have been one of the most widely cited indicators of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. But the U.S.-commanded Resolute Support mission told the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) in March the assessments were no longer being produced. “District stability data has not been collected since the October 22, 2018 data submitted last quarter,” Resolute Support wrote in response to SIGAR’s request for the information ahead of its latest report, released 01 May 2019. The U.S.-led mission’s decision to eliminate the stability assessments comes after successive reports showed the Afghan government’s control of the country falling to record lows.
“Ultimately, I don’t think we’ve met all of our strategic goals there,” U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko told reporters. “We were going to get the terrorists out and create a government that could keep the terrorists out,” he said. “Obviously, we haven’t kicked the terrorists out if they’re still blowing things up and we’re negotiating with them. That strategic goal has now changed.”
“What we are finding now is almost every indicia, metrics, however you want to phrase it, for success or failure is now classified or non-existent,” he said, adding that hiding or eliminating would appear pointless. “The Afghan people obviously know which districts are controlled by the Taliban. The Taliban obviously know which districts they control. Our military knows it. Everybody in Afghanistan knows it,” he said. “The only people who don’t know what is going on are the people who are paying for all of this, and that’s the American taxpayer.”
Expressing his frustration over Taliban's behavior, US President Donald Trump on 07 September 2019 called off peace talks with the insurgent group. Trump said that he had planned unprecedented, albeit separate, talks with the two sides on Sunday in Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, but that the Taliban's persistent, grisly violence made them untrustworthy partners. "Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the major Taliban leaders and, separately, the President of Afghanistan, were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday," Trump said in a tweet. "Unfortunately, in order to build false leverage, they admitted to an attack in Kabul that killed one of our great great soldiers, and 11 other people. I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations."
Trump's announcement came after the Taliban admitted to a car bombing at a security post near NATO's Resolute Support Mission headquarters in Kabul. Two NATO soldiers — one US and one Romanian — were among 12 people that were killed in the attack. "What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position?" Trump said. "If they cannot agree to a ceasefire during these very important peace talks, and would even kill 12 innocent people, then they probably don't have the power to negotiate a meaningful agreement anyway," he continued.
The Taliban had intensified attacks in Afghanistan in the past few weeks. Last week, the group launched an offensive in Kunduz and Baghlan provnices to capture key cities. Just like Trump's decision to call off talks was unexpected, the Taliban's muscle-flexing also caught many by surprise, particularly because the group was holding peace negotiations with the US in Doha, and was reportedly close to signing a deal to end the 18-year-long conflict in Afghanistan.
The Taliban yielded too little and too late. They appeared to have an upper hand in negotiations. For a deal to go through, President Trump would have to overrule US intelligence assessments that showed US objectives had not been achieved. He won't do that.
Washington and the Taliban movement signed a deal that lays out conditions for the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan. The agreement was signed by US peace envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and one of the Taliban's senior leaders, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, in Qatar’s capital Doha on 29 February 2020. The deal will see Washington and its allies withdrawing their troops from five bases in Afghanistan within the next 135 days. The remaining American soldiers will leave the country in 14 months if the Taliban fulfills its commitments. The document laid the groundwork for future negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government, aimed at bringing a lasting peace to the country. The US has agreed to facilitate the talks and lift sanctions from Taliban members by August, provided the negotiations commence as planned. Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada called on all of his fighters to honor and abide by the agreement.
Chris Murphy of Connecticut, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee and its Foreign Relations Committee, has reviewed the documents. He said the "security guarantees are so vague as to be effectively void. It's not clear how we will track whether they are indeed renouncing terrorist groups." Even Liz Cheney (Republican-Wyoming), a Trump ally, said the deal failed to provide mechanisms to verify that the Taliban was keeping its promises.
The deal signed on February 29 would allow U.S. President Donald Trump to fulfill his campaign pledge to stop "endless wars" and bring home thousands of U.S. troops during an election year. But some experts have warned Washington made too many concessions to the Taliban without getting much in return. Many said the U.S.-negotiated agreement also undermines the Western-backed government in Kabul, which was not a party to the deal.
The documents reportedly include military steps that should be taken over the next 18 months, what kind of attacks are banned by both sides, and how the United States will share information about its troop locations with the Taliban to prevent attacks during the withdrawal. U.S. lawmakers who reviewed the documents said there were insufficient mechanisms to verify if the Taliban is abiding by the deal and have accused the Trump administration of hiding details of the agreement from the public.
"If it's true that the secret annexes provide information on how the Taliban's obligations to the agreement will be monitored, it could be that the Trump administration fears the monitoring regime, if made public, would be perceived as too vague or weak and hence could provoke harsh criticism of the agreement," Kugelman of the Wilson Center said. "So long as the annexes remain secret, there will be fodder for conspiracy theories and concerns about transparency that will only heighten suspicions about the agreement and its intentions."
The deal fell short of a core U.S. demand: the Taliban publicly cutting its ties with the Al-Qaeda terrorist group. The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and ousted the Taliban after it refused to hand over Al-Qaeda leaders who were behind the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States that killed nearly 3,000 people. But the agreement only states that the Taliban "will not allow any of its members, other individuals, or groups, including [Al-Qaeda], to use the soil of Afghanistan to threaten the security of the United States and its allies." It also says the Taliban must "send a clear message" to Al-Qaeda that they "have no place in Afghanistan," not to "cooperate" with them, to "prevent them from recruiting, training, and fundraising," and to "not provide visas, passports, travel permits, or other legal documents" allowing them to enter Afghanistan.
But the deal does not include an explicit Taliban commitment to break off ties with Al-Qaeda. "Unlike the U.S., the Taliban wasn't in a rush to get a deal, and it could easily say no to demands it didn't like," Michael Kugelman, South Asia associate at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, told RFE/RL. "For the U.S., which badly needed a deal, getting the Taliban to agree to deny space to Al-Qaeda, without actually compelling the Taliban to sever ties with Al-Qaeda, was likely the best outcome it could get."
The Taliban's persistence in retaining, holding and administering territory while fighting the US and the Kabul-based government for the last 19 years meant that Washington had to settle for a political solution. Richard Engel wrote 01 March 2020 : "Taliban declaring victory after US, conditional, withdrawal agreement. Not surprising theyd do that.. But are they wrong to consider it a win? US says it’s leaving and not asking much in return after nearly 19 yrs of war." Max Boot wrote "... what was signed on Saturday was not a peace deal. It was a deal to negotiate a deal—with the Taliban in a much stronger position now because Trump has already granted their key demand, a US troop withdrawal... . The reason he got it and other presidents didn't is because he offered a much more generous deal that enhances the risk of a Taliban takeover."
A deadly blast shattered a period of relative calm in Afghanistan on 02 March 2020, as the Taliban told fighters to resume operations against Afghan security forces -- just days after signing a deal with Washington.
Pakistan’s foreign minister urged the US to pull its troops out of Afghanistan in a responsible fashion, after US President Donald Trump said that the expected peace deal with the Taliban may bring American soldiers home. “We want a responsible withdrawal,” Shah Mahmood Qureshi told Reuters in Qatar’s capital Doha, where US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo oversaw the signing of a peace deal with the Taliban. “It’s an important day… Hopefully it will set the tone for peace and stability in Afghanistan,” Qureshi said of the upcoming event. When asked by Fox News last month whether the US should leave the region, Qureshi said: “Even if you withdraw, do it responsibly. Do not do what you did in the 1980s, when you created a vacuum, and destructive forces came in to fill that vacuum.”
U.S. officials have said the 14-month timetable for the withdrawal is "aspirational." U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the pullout was "conditions-based." "If progress on the political front between the Taliban and the current Afghan government continues, then the United States and its partners will further reduce our presence toward a goal of zero in 2021," he wrote in The Washington Post on February 29. "If progress stalls, then our drawdown likely will be suspended as well."
The U.S. government had intelligence that the Taliban did not plan to abide by promises they made in the peace agreement with the United States. NBC News cited three U.S. intelligence officials, who remained anonymous in the March 06, 2020 report, saying the U.S. intelligence indicated the Taliban viewed the peace process as a way to secure the withdrawal of U.S. troops. After the troops leave Afghanistan, the Taliban plan to attack the U.S.-backed government of Afghanistan, according to the report.
US President Donald Trump says his country should no longer be a police force in Afghanistan after 19 years, calling for troop withdrawal, which according to reports by the end of May 2020 was considerably ahead of schedule. "We are acting as a police force, not the fighting force that we are, in Afghanistan. After 19 years, it is time for them to police their own country," Trump said 27 May 2020. "Bring our soldiers back home but closely watch what is going on and strike with a thunder like never before, if necessary!" he said. the Pentagon was to bring troop levels down from about 12,000 to 8,600 by mid-July, before withdrawing all forces by May 2021. But a senior US defence official said the troop number was already at about 7,500, as commanders look to accelerate the withdrawal because of fears over the coronavirus pandemic.
Eleventh report [S/2020/415] of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team submitted pursuant to resolution 2501 (2019) concerning the Taliban and other associated individuals and entities constituting a threat to the peace, stability and security of Afghanistan, submitted 19 May 2020, noted "Hard-line Taliban believe that they can and will still achieve their aims by force.
"The Taliban’s ongoing profiting from narcotics is not addressed in the agreement but will be a challenge under any future governance arrangements in Afghanist an. The scale of the problem remains huge and has been further complicated by a boom in methamphetamine production and trafficking.
"The senior leadership of Al-Qaida remains present in Afghanistan, as well as hundreds of armed operatives, Al-Qaida in the Indian Subcontinent, and groups of foreign terrorist fighters aligned with the Taliban.... Relations between the Taliban, especially the Haqqani Network, and Al-Qaida remain close, based on friendship, a history of shared struggle, ideological sympathy and intermarriage. The Taliban regularly consulted with Al-Qaida during negotiations with the United States and offered guarantees that it would honour their historical ties. Al-Qaida has reacted positively to the agreement, with statements from its acolytes celebrating it as a victory for the Taliban’s cause and thus for global militancy. The challenge will be to secure the counter-terrorism gains to which the Taliban have committed, which will require them to suppress any international threat emanating from Al-Qaida in Afghanistan."
Trump renewed his resolve 27 May 2020 to “bring our soldiers back home” from Afghanistan, amid reports that the ongoing US troop drawdown in Afghanistan “is well ahead of schedule” outlined in a landmark peace-building pact the United States signed with the Taliban in February 2020. “Bring our soldiers back home but closely watch what is going on and strike with a thunder like never before, if necessary!” Trump added.
US intelligence has concluded that the Russian military offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants in Afghanistan to kill American troops and other coalition forces, the New York Times reported on 26 June 2020. Citing officials briefed on the matter, the report said the United States determined months ago that a Russian military intelligence unit linked to assassination attempts in Europe had offered rewards for successful attacks last year. Militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money, the newspaper said. Trump had been briefed on the intelligence finding, the Times said and declined to act on or publicise it. It said the White House had yet to authorize any steps against Russia in response to the bounties.
The National Security Agency dissented from other US intelligence agencies about reports Russia’s GRU paid bounties to the Taliban for killing of US troops in Afghanistan, The Wall Street Journal revealed 30 June 2020. National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien refuted media reports that US President Donald Trump had been briefed on the allegations regarding the so-called "Russian bounties" allegedly offered to Taliban militants for killing US troops in Afghanistan in a statement on Tuesday, noting that they were not verified or substantiated by the intelligence community.
The Pentagon on 28 January 2021 put the Taliban on notice that the U.S. believes it is failing to live up to its end of a peace agreement signed last year with the Trump administration. "Without them meeting their commitments to renounce terrorism and to stop the violent attacks on the Afghan National Security Forces [and] the Afghan people, it is very hard to see a specific way forward for the negotiated settlement," Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said in his first press briefing.
But Kirby insisted that no decisions had been made on Washington's end of the bargain: that is, whether to withdraw all U.S. troops by May if the Taliban meets its commitments, including reaching a separate deal with the Afghan government. "There hasn't been any decision about force presence now, going forward," he said, stressing that the U.S. still wants to get a final settlement of the conflict before American troop levels go down to zero.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|