The NCI Agency has been contributing to operations in Afghanistan since 2003, when NATO took the lead of the United Nations-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). While Afghan forces have now taken over responsibility for security from NATO, and the ISAF mission ended in 2014, the Agency continues to deploy personnel to the central Asian country to this day. It now provides operational analysis, cyber security and some CIS services to NATO's follow-on Resolute Support (RS) mission which aims to further train and assist Afghan security forces and institutions. "Although Resolute Support is a 'non-combat' mission, it remains challenging," commented Erick Lesbaupin from the NCI Agency's Operations and Exercises Service Line.
The transition of the ISAF Mission to Resolute Support, not only reduced the number of sites supported by the Agency from more than 70 to just nine, it also affected resources. "The completion of the ISAF Mission generated a reduction - of around 20% - in the number of contractors, field technicians providing local support on site," Mr Lesbaupin explained.
"This reduction mainly impacted the provision of outsourced CIS services". In 2005, NATO decided to outsource the provision of CIS services (voice and data) to Industry "due to significant shortages of manpower in the NATO Signal Battalions and the fact that most of the NATO Satellite Communications ground segment was not yet available". This 'outsourced' capability has been in place since 2007 and has proved to be very effective. Broadcast radio services across Afghanistan were also subsequently outsourced.
Meanwhile, the coalition's requirements for greater synergy also brought about the implementation of the Afghanistan Mission Network, which led to the creation of NATO's Federated Mission Network (FMN) concept.
Today, around 10 Agency staff members are deployed to Afghanistan to contribute to the RS Crisis Establishment (CE) operation covering areas such as Operational Analysis, Cyber Security, or contributing to the Signal Support Group. The Resolute Support Signal Support Group (RS SSG) was created in recent years to provide critical CIS services to forces in operational theatre and their partners.
The group is thus responsible for CIS support and the delivery of Command and Control, Communications, Computers, Combat Systems, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C5ISR) services. This team of experts, which is currently on its fifth rotation, was predominantly manned by members of the NATO CIS Group (NCISG) initially, but the support of embedded NCI Agency Experts was requested. And now, the incumbents of the posts of RS SSG Commander and Deputy Commander alternate between the NCISG and the Agency.
Mr Lesbaupin added: "Within the RS SSG, Agency personnel lead the Afghanistan Mission Network Operation Centre (AMNOC), coordinate the use and maintenance of all Functional Area Services (FAS), supervise CIS depot activities and support projects on site, including interfacing continuously with the outsourced CIS provider. So, although security responsibilities have been transferred to the Afghanistan National Security Forces (ANSF), the mission continues to evolve and remains challenging.
The Warsaw Summit committed NATO Support to Afghanistan until at least 2020. This means that in comings years, the NCI Agency will have opportunity to continue to improve its staff's experience and knowledge through the support it provides to RS, and by deploying personnel to Afghanistan."