For 20 years, Norway had military forces deployed to NATO and allied missions in Afghanistan. The last Norwegian soldiers left the country in August 2021, and the mission has been terminated.
The Norwegian military participation in Afghanistan 2001–2021 is one of the largest, most comprehensive and longest-lasting international military missions Norway has participated in since World War II.
The first Norwegian forces arrived in Afghanistan in December 2001, and the last left the country on 30 August 2021. During this twenty-year period, around 9,200 Norwegian soldiers served in the country. Ten Norwegian soldiers were killed while serving in Afghanistan.
For the last couple of years of the mission, the Norwegian Armed Forces were present with staff officers, a medical unit and a unit from the Norwegian special forces who mentored and trained the Afghan special police. At most, Norway had 600 soldiers deployed in the country. The last year of the mission, there were around 100 Norwegian military personnel in Kabul.
In April 2021, NATO and Norway decided to end their military missions in Afghanistan. The withdrawal of Allied personnel began the month after. The last Norwegian personnel left the country on the morning of 30 August 2021. This concluded nearly 20 years of Norwegian military participation in Afghanistan.
Summer 2021 – the mission is terminated
In the final weeks of the mission, the Norwegian contribution consisted of about 40 personnel based at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. The personnel was mainly military medical personnel who, together with American forces, operated the military hospital at the airport. In addition, a unit of Norwegian special forces assisted during the evacuation of civilians to Norway and with the withdrawal of the last Norwegian soldiers from the country.
The last remaining Norwegian soldiers in Afghanistan were flown home with the Norwegian C-130J Hercules aircraft "Frigg" on Monday morning 30 August. The plane took off from Kabul at 04.34 Norwegian time. It had a stopover in Tbilisi, Georgia, where the Norwegian Armed Forces had established a temporary transit station. The soldiers landed in Oslo, Norway the same evening.
Afghanistan is a country with several ethnic groups and a weak state formation. The local leaders, clan chiefs and warlords still have a great part of the real power.
The Taliban, who seized power in the 1990s, established a strict system of government based on a conservative, religious platform. At the same time the regime allowed the terrorist group al-Qaeda to be established in the country. With the Taliban's consent, the country was used as a base for planning of terrorist acts in other countries. On 11 September 2001, the world witnessed the attacks on New York and Washington D.C. killing nearly 3,000 people. As early as 12 September 2001, NATO agreed that the attacks had triggered Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty. The attack was seen as an attack on all member states, and the members had a duty to assist the United States.
In October 2001, the United States along with coalition forces attacked Afghanistan, and the Taliban regime soon lost control. The counter-attack was in line with the right to self-defense (Article 51 of the UN Charter)
Norway contributed to four different operations in Afghanistan. Norway's first contribution to Afghanistan came in late 2001 through Operation Enduring Freedom and consisted of special forces, mine clearers and explosive specialists. The mine clearers were tasked with clearing the airports of Kabul and Kandahar of explosives. The Norwegian Armed Forces' special forces participated several times, until Norway decided to concentrate on the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) from 2006 onwards.
On 20 December 2001, the UN unanimously adopted Resolution 1386, which described the situation in Afghanistan as a threat to international peace and security. At the request of the Afghan authorities, ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) was established in 2001. The international military force intented to contribute to increased security and stability in Afghanistan. Initially, the aim was to secure Kabul and surrounding areas to give Hamid Karzai's interim government an opportunity to function after the Taliban regime was defeated.
On 13 October 2003, the UN Security Council, through Resolution 1510, extended ISAF's mandate to cover the whole of Afghanistan. The mandate was extended through UN Resolution 1974 from 2011, Resolution 2011 from 2011, Resolution 2041 from 2012 and Resolution 2069 from 2012. Norway contributed troops to ISAF from December 2002 to January 2014. ISAF was a comprehensive operation with over 130,000 soldiers from about fifty countries participated. In August 2014, the number was reduced to around 44,000. While Operation Enduring Freedom was a US-led operation, ISAF was a coalition force with multinational leadership, established on the basis of Resolution 1386 (2001) of the UN Security Council. Individual countries led the operation in the beginning, untill ISAF from 2003 was placed under the command of NATO. The area of operation first included the capital Kabul and surroundings. From 2003, NATO gradually extended the area of operation to the whole country.
Militarily, ISAF's main task was to support the elected Afghan government and to contribute to stability and security in order to support social and economic development. ISAF thus had a broader perspective than the purely military. ISAF aimed to prevent the country from being used as a sanctuary for international terrorism. The force also contributed to security as a basis for humanitarian efforts and the economic and social development of the Afghan society. Contributing to reforming the Afghan security apparatus was key. Great emphasis was placed on training, advising and building up the Afghan armed forces, which has also operated together with the foreign forces.
In 2002, the UN Security Council through Resolution 1401 established the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) as a political mission at the request of the Afghan authorities. The mandate was to provide assistance to the authorities and the Afghan people by facilitating for lasting peace and development. The mandate was originally for one year, and has since been extended repeatedly through new resolutions. UNAMA has led and facilitated civilian assistance programs in Afghanistan. The operation has been involved in the conduction of elections in the country, including the elections in 2014. UNAMA, as a political mission, is also involved in the political processes in Afghanistan. Norway contributed with personnel to UNAMA from 2007 to 2014.
Until 2021, Norway contributed to the NATO-led operation Resolute Support Mission, which replaced ISAF in January 2015. Resolute Support Mission was anchored in the US bilateral security agreement and NATO's Status of Forces Agreement signed on 30 September 2014. The coalition provided – through a strategic partnership with the Afghan authorities– a functional support to the Afghan security forces through training, advising and assistance. The goal was to create credible, competent and increasingly sustainable security institutions and security forces. The Resolute Support Mission was terminated in summer 2021, following a NATO decision to end its military presence in Afghanistan.
Throughout the years, Norway had various contrubutions in Afghanistan. The effort has involved both the Army, the Air Force, the Navy and the Home Guard as well as special forces.
Norway has continuously contributed with ground forces to ISAF, and periodically with forces from the Air Force such as F-16 fighter aircraft and helicopters.
At most, Norway had around 600 soldiers in Afghanistan at the same time. On the ground, mechanised infantry has been the largest contribution. In 2003, a Norwegian company was deployed in Kabul to join the multinational brigade. From 2004, much of the effort was concentrated in the north, in the Faryab province. From 2005, Norway took over the leadership of the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Meymaneh. Norway also contributed with a rapid reaction force. In 2002, the contingent management was moved from Kandahar to Kabul, and in 2006 from Kabul to Mazar-e Sharif, along with a national support element.
The Norwegian contributions have experienced several periods characterised by frequent battles with rebel forces. Special forces have been deployed in Afghanistan several times where they have had mentoring and training role. The specialist contributions have included mine clearers, explosive specialists, surgical teams and field hospitals. In July 2014, the last major Norwegian mission in ISAF was completed. About hundred soldiers, mainly engineers, closed the Norwegian camp Camp Nidaros in Mazar-e Sharif. At the end of 2014, the Norwegian contribution consisted of 30 to 40 staff officers in Kabul, in addition to special forces.
Norway participated in UNAMA for the first time in February 2007 with a military adviser. Since 2008, Norway has been represented by military advisers and staff officers in Kabul and Mazar-e Sharif. The tasks have been to support civilian development in Afghanistan in accordance with UNAMA's mandate. Norway ended its contribution to the UNAMA operation in August 2014.
Special Forces unit
The Norwegian Special Forces unit in Afghanistan was called Special Operations Advisory Team 222. Their support for Crisis Response Unit 222 (CRU 222), the Afghan Special Police, was provided within the framework of Resolute Support Mission's concept for capacity building; train, advise, and assist. The mission started in 2007, and Norway was in charge of the mission from 2013 until its end in 2021.
The Norwegian special soldiers had a discreet role when the Afghan special police solved their missions. Normally, Norwegian Special Forces did not participate in combat, but focused on supporting, mentoring and giving advise. However, in extreme situations, the Norwegian operators did support the Afghan police directly and participated in solving situations like terror attacks.
Norway also deployed various staff personnel to the multi-national mission’s headquarters in Afghanistan. In accordance with NATO decisions, both the Special Forces unit and the staff personnel was withdrawn from Afghanistan in June 2021.
From March 2020 to August 2021, Norway also deployed military medical personnel to the military hospital at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.
Eight people have been decorated with Norway's highest award, the War Cross with sword, for their efforts in Afghanistan.
In 2011, the medal was awarded to Trond André Bolle post mortem. Later that year, Eirik Johan Kristoffersen and Jørg Lian were awarded the War Cross with Swords.
In 2013, Lars Kristian Lauritzen and Kristian Bergh Stang were awarded the medal. The year after, Aleksander Hesseberg Vikebø received the War Cross. He also received the St. Olav’s Medal with Oak Branch, which makes him Norway's most decorated soldier in modern times.
Espen Haugland was awarded the War Cross in 2016, after heroically disarming a suicide bomber in Kabul back in 2004.
The last soldier to date to receive a War Cross for efforts in Afghanistan, was Ken Andersen, who received the decoration in 2017.
Ten Norwegian soldiers and military personnel were killled during their service for Norway in Afghanistan. One of them, Siri Skare, served in UNAMA, while the other nine were a part of ISAF.
Norway lost its first soldier in ISAF in May 2004 when Tommy Rødningsby was killed by a grenade in Kabul.
Tor Arne Lau-Henriksen was killed in an exchange of gunfire in Lowgar in July 2007.
In November 2007, Kristoffer Sørli Jørgensen was killed by a roadside bomb (an Improvised Explosive device) in Meymaneh.
Trond Petter Kolseth was killed by a suicide bomber in Mazar-e Sharif in April 2009.
In 2010, five soldiers were killed in service: Claes Joachim Olsson in Ghowrmach in January, and Andreas Eldjarn, Simen Tokle, Christian Lian and Trond André Bolle in June – all were killed by an improvised explosive device.