Select Committee on Defence Fifth Report

2 The ARRC leadership of ISAF


17. ISAF is made up of 9,000 personnel provided by 36 contributor countries, 26 of which are members of NATO.[14] MoD's first memorandum stated that ISAF was in Afghanistan at the invitation of the Afghan Government, and under the authorisation of successive United Nations Security Council Resolutions. The latest (UNSCR 1623) was agreed on 13 September 2005.[15]

18. Stage 1 of ISAF's presence was restricted to Kabul and its suburbs. Stage 2 saw ISAF expand its footprint to the Northern provinces. Stage 3, which is currently under way, will extend ISAF's presence to the West and South. ISAF stage 4 expansion will result in responsibility for the Eastern provinces transferring from the US-led coalition, OEF, to ISAF. When this will happen is uncertain.

Purpose of ISAF Mission

19. MoD described the purpose of the ISAF mission as being to:

Prevent Afghanistan reverting to ungoverned space which could harbour terrorism; build security and Government institutions so that the progress of recent years becomes irreversible, and to enable eventual international disengagement; and, support efforts to counter the growth of narcotics production and trafficking.[16]

20. MoD regards these aims as interdependent and achievable only through the extension of the authority of the Afghan Government. On 26 January 2006, the Secretary of State told the House of Commons that:

We cannot look to resolve just one of those issues. Everything connects. Stability depends on a viable legitimate economy. That depends on rooting out corruption and finding real alternatives to the harvesting of opium. That means helping Afghanistan to develop judicial systems, her infrastructure and the capability to govern effectively. [17]

ISAF leadership

21. From 2001 to 2005, ISAF was commanded by a succession of NATO member countries on a six-monthly rotation. In September 2005 the Italians took over command from Turkey for a nine month period. They in turn hand over to the ARRC at the beginning of May 2006.

22. The decision that the HQ ARRC Group would lead ISAF from May 2006 until February 2007 was announced at the NATO ministerial meeting in Istanbul in July 2004.[18] The ARRC is a NATO High Readiness Force Headquarters staffed predominantly by UK personnel with the rest drawn from other NATO countries.[19] HQ ARRC will be based in Kabul and commanded by Lieutenant General Sir David Richards. It will be supported by 1 Signal Brigade.

23. The ARRC leadership of ISAF will coincide with its Stage 3 expansion and moves to create "greater synergy" between ISAF and the OEF mission. The submission we received from the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) described the ARRC leadership as "NATO's chance to prove its mettle in the post-cold war and out-of-Europe operations through its mission in Afghanistan ISAF expansion West and South".[20] MoD shared this view, telling us that "is important that this [mission] is a success for NATO".[21]

24. Under the ARRC leadership, ISAF will have an opportunity to extend the stability it has brought to the North to the less stable Western and Southern provinces. MoD described the period of the ARRC leadership of ISAF as an opportunity for a "step change" in the international commitment to Afghanistan.[22]

25. It is vital for the future of Afghanistan that the ISAF mission is a success. Political and economic development in Afghanistan is dependent on stability and security.

26. The successful completion of ISAF stage 3 expansion under the leadership of the ARRC will demonstrate NATO's value as a force for international stability beyond the geographical confines of its original Cold War remit.


27. NATO announced that it intended to expand ISAF authority to the Western and Southern provinces in February 2005. At the time of our first evidence session on 17 January 2006, nearly one year after this announcement, NATO's force generation process, by which NATO member countries make commitments of personnel and assets for the deployment, was still not complete.[23] Although reports in the media accurately described the UK's eventual commitment to Helmand province as early as October 2005,[24] the whole force generation process was not completed until early February 2006 when the Dutch Government announced the deployment of troops to Uruzgun province.[25]

28. It was reported that some of the delay in finalising the detail of ISAF's stage 3 expansion was caused by difficulties in NATO member countries agreeing to common rules of engagement.[26] Rules of engagement set the parameters within which national forces operate and are key to determining how mission aims will be achieved. We were told by Martin Howard that:

we never comment on the details of rules of engagement because it has operational implications, but our objective in that process would be to ensure that the rules of engagement are sufficiently robust for NATO to carry out its mission as set out in the operational plan which has been agreed by all nations. As ever with rules of engagement it will be a question of striking a balance between being able to achieve military effect but also to be working within the law and also achieving the right sort of political effect.[27]

29. NATO allows countries to exercise "national caveats" from aspects of these rules of engagement. MoD told us:

some national contingents will have caveats on the use of their forces. What NATO is seeking to do is ensure that there are an absolute minimum number of caveats, and that is what we are seeing from the bulk of the nations.[28]

30. The exact nature of these caveats has not been made public but the Minister confirmed that they would prevent national forces participating in certain operations.[29] Despite this, the Minister was confident that caveats would pose less of a constraint than on previous NATO missions:

I think we have learnt considerably from some of those problems in the Balkans where the national caveats really were a constraint. People who are committing [to ISAF] want to achieve the mission. I do not think they are there just for the tokenism of it.[30]

31. We recognise that some countries have historical and constitutional reasons for not participating in certain aspects of military operations. It is important for the success of the stage 3 expansion that ISAF is able to present an effective and united front to those who seek to undermine it. Despite the Minister's assurances, we remain concerned that national caveats risk impairing the effectiveness of the ISAF mission in the Southern provinces where conditions are likely to be most challenging.

32. We note the Minister's assurances that national caveats would be less of a constraint in Afghanistan than they had been during the deployment to the Balkans. We recommend that MoD continue to work with NATO partners to develop robust rules of engagement with the minimum of national caveats so that further progress is made before the ISAF stage 4 expansion.

33. We were concerned that, should the security situation in the South require reinforcements to the deployment, the UK might be required to provide the additional forces. MoD confirmed to us that it would consider any request from NATO for further reinforcements but that NATO would have other options including the NATO Strategic Reserve Force and NATO Response Force which could be deployed "in extremis" to reinforce the Afghanistan operation.[31]

34. We are concerned that, should the security situation in the South prove worse than anticipated, the UK will be called on to provide additional forces. The UK has already committed significant numbers of troops and assets to ISAF stage 3. NATO should call on the military assets of other countries before approaching the UK for further contributions.


35. Stage 3 expansion will bring the ISAF security and stability mission into the Southern provinces which are currently the responsibility of the OEF counter-terrorism mission. It is possible that after stage 3 is completed, ISAF and OEF Forces will, on occasion, operate in the same geographical areas. Certain assets—notably air support—are shared. Effective coordination is therefore essential.

36. On 26 January 2006, the Secretary of State told the House of Commons that ISAF stage 3 would bring "greater synergy between ISAF and OEF" by the creation of a single NATO HQ in Afghanistan (responsible for three-quarters of the country).[32] Within this HQ there will be a three star Commander (initially Lieutenant General Sir David Richards) with three two star Officers reporting to him. Of these Officers one will be responsible for managing air assets, one for stability operations, and one (an embedded US Officer) for coordinating the remaining US Forces engaged in counter-terrorism operations.[33] The Minister told us that all NATO assets, including US-deployed NATO assets, will be commanded by the ISAF commander.[34]

37. ISAF and OEF air assets have been, and will continue to be, commanded from the air component operation centre at al Udeid in Qatar which is also responsible for allocating air assets to Operation Telic in Iraq. This air operation centre is under the command of United States Central Command (US CENTCOM). At our evidence session on 7 March 2006, we asked Air Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy whether he was satisfied that the ISAF mission would receive the air support it needed from CENTCOM. He replied "it is in the US interest to ensure that their air resources are available to support the ISAF mission which they will be".[35]

38. We welcome the creation of a single HQ to command ISAF and OEF as a logical consequence of the increased "synergy" of the missions. On paper the command, control and communication arrangements between ISAF and OEF seem clear, but the success of the arrangements will be tested when operational decisions have to be made. We will scrutinise closely the operational effectiveness of these arrangements particularly in regard to the allocation of air assets.

39. MoD states that the role of ISAF is explicitly aimed at stabilisation and not counter-terrorism. In practice, this distinction may prove theoretical. In the Southern provinces it is possible that ISAF Forces may get drawn into fighting terrorists. We were concerned that ISAF Forces should not be restricted by their rules of engagement from engaging proactively with al-Qaeda or other threats should they arise. When we pressed the Minister for assurances that UK Forces would be permitted to take offensive action against forces that are threatening them and, if necessary, pursue and destroy such forces, he told us "the answer to that would be yes".[36]

40. We welcome the Minister's assurances that UK Forces would be permitted to take offensive action against forces that are threatening them and, if necessary, pursue and destroy such forces. In the more dangerous South, it is essential that UK commanders are empowered to act proactively against known threats.


41. MoD told us that NATO envisages eventually expanding the ISAF mission into the remaining Eastern provinces which are now under OEF command. We were told that ISAF stage 4 expansion into East Afghanistan envisages that OEF troops would be "re-badged" and operate under the ISAF mission.[37] It is currently unclear when this will happen although Dr Roger Hutton told us that MoD was keen for stage 4 to be completed during the ARRC leadership of ISAF.[38]

42. MoD anticipates that ISAF stage 4 expansion will happen under the leadership of the ARRC and that OEF Forces in the East will be re-badged under ISAF command. It is important that command and control arrangements are finalised and shown to be effective before the two missions are merged.

14 Back

15   Ev 45, para 4 Back

16   Ev 44, para 3 Back

17   HC Deb, 26 January 2006, col 1529 Back

18   Ev 46, para 10 Back

19 Back

20   Ev 39, para 3.6 Back

21   Q 4 Back

22   Ev 46, para 10 Back

23   Q 17 Back

24   The Daily Telegraph, 20 October 2005 Back

25   "Dutch to join British troops on mission in Afghanistan", The Times, 3 February 2006 Back

26   "UK tries to form coalition to fight in Afghanistan", The Guardian, 15 November 2005 Back

27   Q 58 Back

28   Q 156 Back

29   Q 144 Back

30   Q 146 Back

31   Q 159 Back

32   HC Deb, 26 January 2006, col 1536 Back

33   Q 152 Back

34   Q 153 Back

35   Q 179 Back

36   Q 147 Back

37   Q 151 Back

38   Ibid Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2006
Prepared 6 April 2006