NATO on Kosovo and Afghanistan

By | July 9, 2021

Military actions other than traditional defense of one’s own country’s borders have long been controversial within NATO. From the American side, during the 1990’s, there was sometimes strong criticism of peacekeeping operations, which was based on a desire that the country would not be involved in European crises and wars that did not directly affect NATO. However, attitudes changed and NATO’s strategic concept from 1999 showed that interest in peacekeeping and peacekeeping operations had increased among its members.

A concrete expression of the member states’ increased interest in crisis management was NATO’s efforts in the war in the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990’s.

According to franciscogardening, NATO became involved in the conflict in 1992, when the organization began to monitor compliance with UN trade and arms trade sanctions against Serbia and Montenegro. Until 1996, NATO warships monitored shipping in the Adriatic.

From 1992, NATO also began air surveillance of Bosnia, among other things to protect UN personnel in the United Nations Protection Force (UNPRO). From 1994, NATO became increasingly involved in the conflict, and in December 1995, the Alliance was given the leadership of an international force to ensure compliance with the signed peace agreement. The Ifor (Implementation Force) was the first NATO force ever deployed outside a NATO country. The force of almost 60,000 men was based on NATO’s ARRC units (see Structure). It also included units from 16 non-NATO states – among them Russia and Sweden.

Unlike Unprofor, Ifor was a heavily armed force with both large armored units and qualified air support. It also had completely different and more effective rules regarding combating violations of the peace agreement. All of this led Ifor to largely achieve several of the goals of the 1996 peace agreement.

In November 1996, the UN and NATO decided that a follow-up force to Ifor was needed. A new, much smaller, NATO-led troop force Sfor (Stabilization Force) of just over 30,000 men from about 30 states was established. Through the Joint Guard operation, it would monitor the transition to stable conditions and secure peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina for 18 months.

At the beginning of 2005, Sfor was replaced by the EU force Eufor, which was led from NATO Headquarters but which was itself an EU force.


The background to NATO’s intervention was that the predominantly Albanian population in Kosovo had long been oppressed in a society where Serbs held all important positions in, for example, the police and administration. This led to increasing unrest and actions carried out by Kosovo Albanian guerrillas during 1999-2000 and increased demands for Kosovo Albanian independence.

In order to enforce a peace agreement and put an end to abuses against the Albanians in Kosovo, NATO countries launched a military offensive by air strikes on Serbia, Montenegro and Serbian targets in Kosovo in March 1999. The attack, which was not sanctioned by the UN Security Council, was military and civilian targets that were considered important for Serbian military capabilities.

A first result was that Serbian units and groups accelerated the expulsion of Albanians from Kosovo. Within a few months, hundreds of thousands of Albanians had gathered in primitive refugee camps outside Kosovo. However, NATO continued a continuous air bombing campaign.

In the summer of 1999, Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević was forced to agree to an international peace plan, which included a total withdrawal of Serb forces from Kosovo, the deployment of an international, NATO-dominated peacekeeping force that also included Russian troops, and the return of the expelled Kosovo Albanians.

A resolution was also voted through in the UN Security Council, which approved under international law and set the framework for a multinational peacekeeping force KFOR (Kosovo Force), which NATO was tasked with leading.

The force aimed to maintain order in the province, to monitor compliance with the peace agreement, to disarm the Kosovo Albanian guerrillas and to assist the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIC) mission to rebuild Kosovo after the war. In 2000, the KFOR included about 50,000 soldiers from all the then 19 NATO countries and about 20 others, including Sweden and Russia. Due to lingering tensions between Kosovo’s ethnic groups and the UN mission’s lack of civilian police, KFOR was forced with varying degrees of success to also act as a police force in the ravaged province.

The political process regarding Kosovo’s future status was only partially resolved in 2008, when Kosovo declared independence. Many states recognized Kosovo as an independent state, including the United States and Sweden, but both NATO and the EU were, as organizations, divided on the issue. Russia and Serbia, which have not recognized independence, have wanted to present the case at the UN as a violation of international law. Kosovo has been recognized by over 100 countries, but not by all NATO countries.


In Afghanistan, in August 2003, NATO took over responsibility for ISAF (International Security Assistance Force), which was created as a UN force in 2001 following the fall of the Taliban regime. Its purpose was from the outset to protect the Afghan Interim Government and UN staff on the ground in Afghanistan.

ISAF’s main tasks were partly to assist the legal, elected Afghan government’s military and police efforts, and partly to help build the war-torn country in various ways. ISAF initially operated only in the capital, Kabul, but from 2003 to 2006, ISAF’s responsibilities were gradually increased to cover the entire territory of Afghanistan. ISAF (and thus NATO) thus took over most of the warfare against the Taliban and other rebel groups.

The Afghanistan operation met with strong criticism from many quarters. Among other things, the US strategy was criticized immediately after the September 11 attack. The strategy focused solely on pursuing al-Qaeda and fighting the Taliban, without regard to the security and development needs of the Afghan people. Combined with a series of mistakes and abuses affecting the civilian population, great mistrust was created against the international troops, especially the American ones.

A new strategy for Afghanistan, developed by the United States under President Barack Obama, was adopted in 2009. It aimed to greatly increase military efforts to oust and weaken the Taliban while building up the Afghan security forces (army, police) at a rapid pace. and intelligence organization). The idea was to gradually hand over responsibility for security to the domestic security forces so that the majority of the foreign troops could withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014.

In early May 2012, Barack Obama and the Afghan government reached an agreement on future US support after 2014.

The decision to withdraw and hand over security responsibility to the Afghans in 2014 had the effect that several countries began to regard the mission as more or less and completed and decided to go home earlier. It placed a greater burden on those who remained, especially the United States, and created some friction within the alliance. Sweden, with about 500 men in northern Afghanistan, however, like several NATO countries, stayed until the end of 2014.

NATO on Kosovo and Afghanistan