ISAF More Cooperative with Afghan Requests Amid Troop Drawdown

As NATO’s decade-long combat mission in Afghanistan transitions into a support role, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is making a greater effort to comply with the demands of the Afghan government as Afghan forces prepare to take control of security operations this spring.

The transition, which U.S. President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai agreed would be accelerated after meeting last month, follows a period of increased tension between NATO and the Afghan government.

The tension largely stems from what Afghan officials perceive to be infractions on local customs by coalition troops. Mounting civilian death tolls from NATO air strikes have also been a major issue, prompting Karzai to issue a decree which bans Afghan troops from requesting coalition air support.

As a sign of ISAF’s efforts to ease the tension and hasten the upcoming transition, NATO agreed last week to comply with Karzai’s demand and will no longer be providing air support for Afghan units. This will force the Afghan Air Force to take a front-line role in supporting ground security operations.

Last month, ISAF also agreed to give the Afghan government complete control of its military detention facilities amid allegations of detainee abuse and torture. Discussions between the two parties, however, have not always ended in agreement.

In April 2012, NATO and Afghan officials found themselves at odds concerning the issue of night raids being conducted by U.S. Special Operations forces. The raids, which primarily target senior Taliban and Al-Qaeda operatives, have infuriated and offended many Afghan civilians, who view the raids as intrusive.

Although NATO would not agree to end the raids completely, a deal was made that required ISAF to present intelligence findings to a committee of Afghan officials, who will then decide whether to approve or reject each raid.

Perhaps the most heated issue in Afghanistan is whether U.S. troops will be granted immunity from Afghan law after the current 2014 withdrawal deadline. The Obama administration has made it clear that immunity is a requirement if any troops remain in the country. Tweet it:

Although Karzai said he is “confident” he can convince Afghan officials to agree to an immunity deal, he may face steep opposition from the Afghan public and from opposing political parties. In Iraq, the failure to agree to an immunity deal led to a full troop withdrawal from the country in December 2011.

Earlier this month, President Obama announced in his State of the Union address that 34,000 U.S. troops would return home from deployment by the end of the year. If Afghan forces continue assuming control of operations at the current pace, it is likely that more will soon follow.