The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan

Mission Mandate

In December of 2001, UN-brokered negotiations led to the adoption of “The Bonn Agreement” – a framework for the future political development of Afghanistan. On March 28, 2002, as a result of the agreement, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1401, establishing the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). UNAMA, a special political mission administered by the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, is tasked with addressing both development and humanitarian issues, as well as political affairs in Afghanistan. On March 17, 2014, Resolution 2145 extended UNAMA’s mandate for another year, outlining and reiterating the mission’s objectives and areas of operation.

This Mission’s mandate includes:

  • Aiding in Afghanistan's political transition process; 
  • Supporting the organization of democratic elections;
  • Providing and coordinating humanitarian and development assistance;
  • Monitoring and coordinating efforts to protect and enforce human rights, particularly those of women and children;
  • Supporting the peace and reconciliation process; and
  • Advising and assisting the state in issues of governance and regional cooperation.


Starting in the mid-1990s, an Islamic fundamentalist political and military movement known as the Taliban took control of much of Afghanistan, later providing a safe haven for Osama Bin Laden and other members of the Al Qaeda terrorist organization. Following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. and the Taliban’s refusal to extradite Bin Laden, the United States, partially backed by the international community responded with military action.

In October 2001, the U.S. and its allies launched a bombing offensive against the Taliban. Within weeks, U.S.-led troops, with the assistance of Afghan forces, removed the Taliban from power. In December 2001, at a UN-led conference in Bonn, Germany, Afghan leaders began reconstructing their nation’s government, agreeing to a framework for political transition. This “Bonn Agreement” further called for a UN force to stabilize and support this transition. In response to this request, the UN Security council voted to establish the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), to focus on political and humanitarian affairs, in addition to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), with a security-centered mandate, later transferred to NATO control.   

Since UNAMA’s establishment, Afghanistan has made significant strides toward completing its political transition process. On October 9, 2004, Afghanistan held its first national democratic presidential election, declaring Hamid Karzai President of Afghanistan, later to be reelected in 2009. While the 2014 elections have been met with accusations of fraud, both sides have welcomed a UN-led audit of the electoral process, with election results to be announced in either August or September of 2014.

In 2014, as US troops begin their military drawdown, the Afghan government faces greater control over, and responsibility for, the nation’s security and political affairs, particularly during what has come to be known as Afghanistan’s “Transformation Decade,” from 2015 to 2025. With Taliban-led violence already rising in response to the drawdown, 2014 marks a critical juncture in Afghanistan’s transition process, rendering UNAMA’s political, humanitarian, and development efforts indispensable.

How This Affects American Interests

  • Advances peace and stability. With the U.S. beginning its drawdown of troops, and insurgent groups likely to attempt to reassert their control, UNAMA’s work in strengthening the efficacy and institutional capacity of the Afghan government is vital to maintaining national stability. At the same time, UNAMA continues its peace efforts through its support of the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Programme – an initiative to draw lower-level insurgency fighters off the battlefield and promote confidence building and inter-tribal dialogue that has thus far reached 5,551 individuals in 33 provinces. Furthermore, in 2014 alone, UNAMA has helped launch ten initiatives promoting dialogue in the tribally-divided nation, has lent considerable assistance to the Afghan People’s Dialogue on Peace, and has continued its essential training of Afghan police forces. In the face of the an international drawdown, UNAMA’s efforts in promoting peace represent crucial steps toward a broader peace and stability in Afghanistan – in which the United States is doubtlessly vested.

  • Promotes democracy. Though the UN had not held a formal role in the Afghan election processes, it has provided vital technical assistance in ensuring fair, credible, and secure elections. Tirelessly advocating for free and fair elections, UNAMA additionally helps to ensure a security atmosphere in which polling stations are free from violent insurgent threats. With this UNAMA backing, the 2014 presidential elections saw a successful first round, followed by a contested run-off election. In response to allegations of fraud, both candidates welcomed the UN as a mediator and election auditor. With UNAMA support, the UN has thus far successfully carried out its audit of the elections, with results expected to be announced in the coming weeks. Though the current election results remain contested, the invitation of the United Nations to assist in auditing is testament to its role as an impartial mediator and leading proponent of free and fair democratic elections.

  • Supports humanitarian assistance and human rights. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that, as of June 30, 2014, over 683 thousand Afghans remain displaced from their homes. These levels of displacement, combined with a series of natural disasters including floods and landslides, have left the Afghan people in dire need of assistance. By helping to coordinate the humanitarian assistance of UN agencies such as the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), UNAMA’s work directly aids the Afghan people. Hand-in-hand with this humanitarian aid is the mission’s efforts to ensure and protect human rights. By building the capacity of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), as well as monitoring and reporting on human rights abuses – particularly working to end sexual- and gender-based violence, and the practice of using child soldiers – UNAMA’s mandate directly supports the strongly-held American value that all persons are entitled to a certain degree of inalienable rights.

Ongoing Challenges

  • AfghanistanContinued instability. Despite great strides toward stability, progress toward the establishment of a formal peace process with the armed opposition remained limited, and the security situation volatile. Between March 1 and May 31 of 2014 alone, the United Nations recorder 5,864 security-related incidents, including intimidation of UN personnel, assassination attempts, use of improvised explosive devices, and suicide bombings, particularly on election days. With U.S. military forces being drawn down, the Taliban is largely expected to increase the intensity of its attacks. UNAMA, which has made consistent and concerted efforts toward security, including the training of police forces and the strengthening of state capacities, remains a bulwark against the possibility of further Afghan instability.

  • The opium trade. With an increase in poppy cultivation of 36% between 2012 and 2013, Afghanistan remains by far the largest source of illicit opium and heroin, with an estimated 74% of the world’s heroin trade originating in Afghanistan. The drug trade continues to be the primary source of income for the Taliban, with 90% of the country’s cultivation occurring in only 9 of the country’s 34 provinces – many of which are those most influenced by the Taliban insurgency. UNAMA supports the efforts of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to combat this drug cultivation, while also promoting broader conditions likely to reduce the market for production – strengthening government institutions to reduce corruption, enhancing security to diminish Taliban influence, and promoting economic development, providing income alternatives to poppy cultivation.


*Updated August 2014


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