From ISAF to RS
The leader of the Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden launched the the 9/11 attacks against the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. The war in Afghanistan broke out, because the country was his permanent residence. The US forces appeared one month later, in the Middle Asian country. They wanted to eradicate the Taliban regime, with the help of the opposing Afghan militias. But the traditional and ultraconservative organization successfully united Afghanistan. Meanwhile, they gave shelter to the Al-Qaeda, as well as other jihadist and extremist organizations.
The NATO and its member states did not participate in the fight against the Taliban. In 2003, the North Atlantic organization took over the control of the military operations in Afghanistan. The framework was guaranteed by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which performed diversified tasks. It helped disarm different Afghan militias, supported the establishment of governance, and took part in the reorganization of the Afghan Security Forces.
Coordination and control were the tasks of NATO. However, the participating countries were able to decide the role of their soldiers, and whether they authorize for them the involvement in combat operations, or not. Since 2004, the fighting had started against the Taliban movement again, in the southern territories of Afghanistan. Meanwhile, there was relative peace in the northern and western parts of Afghanistan until 2009. The closest NATO allies of the USA (E.g. United Kingdom, Denmark, Netherlands, Poland, Estonia) took the militarily challenging territories in the southern and eastern parts of the country. In the eastern region, Italy was the leading nation. Meanwhile, Germany took the lead of the allied forces in the northern region. (The NATO did not want to be the occupant in Afghanistan.) There are 34 territories in the country, and the NATO member states created the so-called Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) in 29 territories. Their task was to cooperate with the security forces, and to support public administration and the civil population. There were 100 to 500 members in a PTR, and they barely participated in any combat operation. The members were diplomats, development experts and representatives of Non‑Governmental Organizations.
However, success did not come. The American Foreign Policy focused on Iraq after 2003. Washington considered Afghanistan a black whole, which sucks the resources. In 2007, Barack Obama promised to put an end to the war in Afghanistan after he gets elected. Despite all his sincere efforts, he did not succeed. What he achieved was the end of the ISAF operations in 2014. In terms of manpower and mandate, there is a more modest NATO mission operating further in the area. It is called the Resolute Support.
There are barely 9000 soldiers (half of them are from the US) deployed in Afghanistan, and they do not get involved in combat operations. Their only task is the mentoring of the Security Forces. There is no word about nation building or development. In 2013 and 2014, the Provincial Reconstruction Teams ended their operations. NATO accomplished a profile-cleansing. It deals with only classic military operations since 2015.
The Hungarian Defense Forces at the Hindu Kush
Hungary deployed among the first ones its military forces in Afghanistan, simultaneously with the NATO. They were focusing on the more peaceful regions and Kabul. Between 2003 and 2006, a medical unit and an infantry company were the total Hungarian contribution. It was 120 people altogether. After the Iraqi war, the USA put significant pressure on the NATO members, in order to increase the number of their forces in Iraq or Afghanistan in 2003. Therefore, they wanted to ease the pressure on the US forces.
In 2006, Budapest assumed the operation of a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Baghlan territory, which is located in Northern Afghanistan. It was a huge challenge for the Hungarian Defense Forces. They have never been deployed in such a remote location, on their own. It was a logistical nightmare to support the 300 Hungarian soldiers among thousands of people in the Afghan territory. The USA provided armored vehicles, because the military equipment of the Hungarians was obsolete. It was forbidden for the Hungarian soldiers to get involved in any combat operations. They were allowed to use their weapons for self defense only.
The Hungarian contribution had increased regarding the important niche abilities, by the end of the 2000’s. Hungarian pilots got involved in training the Afghan pilots, for the operating helicopters of Mi-24 for combat attack and the Mi-8/17 for transport purposes. Furthermore, Hungarian mentors were working in the logistics school of Kabul.
Two semi-combat units were deployed in Afghanistan, since 2009. There was a combat-mentor-unit of 50 American and Hungarian soldiers in Baghlan territory. Their goal was to support an Afghan infantry battalion, and they got involved in several combat situations in 2010 and 2011. The other unit was a Special Operation Task Unit in Eastern Afghanistan. 12 soldiers were working in this unit, under American command. Until 2011, Hungary contributed with more than 500 people in total. Therefore, it was the largest Hungarian military mission since the end of the Cold War.
After the NATO shut down the ISAF mission, the number of the Hungarian contingent started to decrease. The PRT got shut down in 2013. In 2015, almost 100 Hungarian soldiers were deployed in the Resolute Support mission. The majority of them were mentoring the local border guards in Northern Afghanistan. The pilots of the Mi-8/17 transport mentoring missions and the Hungarian Special Operation Forces are still there, working as mentors.
The Hungarian public was divided concerning the deployment of our soldiers in Afghanistan for a while. Many people thought, it was not our business to wage a war in such a remote country. Then they got two kinds of answers, after 2014. During the migration crisis, it was possible to get to Europe or Hungary from the hotspots of the world, in just a few weeks. Furthermore, the second largest group if migrants came from Afghanistan, in 2014 and 2015. The other point was the Ukrainian Crisis. The NATO members showed their solidarity in a neighboring country of Hungary. The countries are currently working on the Eastern Flank. And these countries have to face a similar security risk.