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. As a result of the agreement, on 28 March 2002, 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 16 March 2015, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2210 (2015), which renewed the mandate of UNAMA, 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 attacks on September 11, 2001, 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. With the assistance of Afghan forces, U.S.-led troops removed the Taliban from power within weeks, 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. This security transition to Afghan forces formally concluded on 31 December 2014, at the end of the mandate of the ISAF.   

Since UNAMA’s establishment, Afghanistan has made significant strides toward completing its political transition process. In October 2004, Afghanistan held its first national democratic presidential election, declaring Hamid Karzai as President of Afghanistan, who was later to be reelected in 2009. While the 2014 elections were met with accusations of fraud, both sides have welcomed the UN-led audit of the electoral process. In September 2014, the Independent Election Commission member, Ashraf Ghani, won the elections.

Since U.S. troops have begun withdrawing, and particularly during Afghanistan’s “Transformation Decade,” from 2015 to 2025, the Afghan government will face greater responsibility for the nation’s security and political affairs. 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

  • Advancing Peace, Stability, and Human Rights  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 (APRP). This is a U.S. backed and financed initiative to draw lower-level insurgency fighters off the battlefield, build confidence and promote inter-tribal dialogue as an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process. As of its initiation in 2011 and its recently reported progress as at December 2014, APRP is present in all 34 provinces of the country, has successfully reintegrated 9,512 ex-combatants, and collected 7,332 weapons from reintegrees. Furthermore, in 2014 alone, UNAMA has helped launch ten initiatives promoting dialogue in the tribally-divided nation, lent considerable assistance to the Afghan People’s Dialogue on Peace, and continued its essential training of Afghan police forces, which includes a UNDP administered training to teach women police officers how to read through implementing the Ustad Mobile Programme, through distributing mobile phones equipped with a learning tool application. As international troops withdraw from the area, UNAMA’s efforts in promoting peace represent a crucial step toward peace and stability in Afghanistan – in which the United States is doubtlessly vested.

  • Promotes Democracy. The UN and UNAMA have supported free and fair elections by providing vital technical assistance in ensuring security during the 2014 elections. UNAMA helps to ensure a secure 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 successfully carried out its audit of the elections. The IEC announced the result in September 2014, with Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai declared President-elect. They provided full details of the result to both candidates and listed the number of ballot boxes as invalidated in the audit as 1,206 from a total of 22,828. The inauguration of the New President of Afghanistan in September 2014, marked the first democratic transition of power in the country’s history. The Security Council also saw the establishment of a Government of National Unity, and it reaffirmed its support for the Government and people as they rebuild their country and strengthen the foundations of sustainable peace and constitutional democracy.

  • Supports Humanitarian Assistance and Human Rights. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that, as of 31 December 2014, 7.4 million people have been reached by humanitarian aid, there has been 10,500 civilian casualties, and 174,000 internally displaced peoples (28 February 2015). 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. This humanitarian aid has a huge impact on the mission’s efforts to ensure and protect human rights. UNAMA Human Right works with Afghan civil society to strengthen their effective participation in major political dialogues and in the current peace, reconciliation and reintegration process (APRP).It also supports initiatives to mobilize and strengthen women’s and civil society organizations, victims’ groups, the media, Government and the international community to pursue processes aimed at ending impunity. The Security Council also welcomed the government reform programme entitled “Realizing Self-Reliance: Commitments to Reforms and Renewed Partnership,” which identifies strategic policy priorities for Afghanistan for the Transformation Decade, such as promoting the rule of law and respect for human rights, particularly in relation to women and girls. UNAMA’s mandate directly supports the strongly-held American value that all persons are entitled to a certain set 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. UNAMA has made consistent and concerted efforts toward security, including the training of police forces and the strengthening of state capacities. However, with the U.S. withdrawal of military forces, the Taliban is largely expected to increase the intensity of its attacks. In the first quarter of 2015, clashes on the ground caused 521 casualties including 136 deaths. Over the past year, the UN Security Council has acknowledged that the Islamic State (IS) has infiltrated into Afghanistan. The UN envoy to Afghanistan stated that the IS could potentially unite minor Islamist groups in the country, which would further the violence and bring more terrorist attacks. Afghanistan's UN Ambassador Zahir Tanin confirmed information about the IS infiltrating Afghanistan, but stressed that “the main enemy we face is the Taliban that continue to fight against us.” These terrorist groups continue to undermine the hard work of the U.S. and the UN to facilitate stability to Afghanistan.

  • Protecting Women.  The UN has worked with the Government of Afghanistan closely to end sexual and gender based violence. During the period between 25 November and 10 December 2014, the United Nations supported outreach activities across the country, hosting debates, radio programs, and workshops that raised awareness of the urgent need to address violence against Afghan women and girls. Coinciding with the launch of this campaign of global activism, the Afghan Government released an analysis report on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (EVAW) in November 2014. In this publication, 5,406 cases of violence against women were registered by the Government, of which 3,715 were registered under the EVAW law, with battery and laceration remaining the most prevalent documented acts of violence against women. On 2 January 2015, following the issuance of Presidential Decree No. 39 on the commutation and amnesty of the punishment of juveniles and prisoners, Afghan government released 144 women and girls detained for moral crimes. The United Nations has repeatedly condemned the illegal practice of arresting and prosecuting women who leave their homes for what are termed moral crimes, including charging them with the intention to commit adultery, which is not a crime under Afghan law.

  • The Opium Trade. Afghanistan produces 80 percent of the world’s opium, which is turned into heroin, most of which ends up in Russia and Europe, and according to UN estimates. Afghanistan’s opium trade was valued at $3 billion in 2013. . Despite more than $7 billion of American counter-narcotics spending, Afghanistan’s opium trade has never been bigger. A 2014 report by the special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction highlights the continued growth of the poppy field and the U.N. figures show that farmers in Afghanistan cultivated 806 square miles of opium poppy last year, a field roughly 205 times the size of New York City. This expanding cultivation and trafficking of drugs puts the entire country’s reconstruction effort at risk by undermining the Afghan state’s legitimacy by stoking corruption. The drug trade continues to be the primary source of income for the Taliban. Ninety percent of the country’s cultivation occurs in 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 strengthening government institutions to reduce corruption, enhancing security to diminish Taliban influence, and providing income alternatives to poppy cultivation for licit economic development.


*Updated May 1, 2015


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