As the Trump administration completes its review of policy on Afghanistan and South Asia, public debate is focused on the war’s military component, including President Trump’s decision to delegate decisions on troop levels to the Pentagon. Yet a few thousand more troops alone will be insufficient to end the war. A security plan, including the anticipated troop increase, must be combined with a political strategy that addresses Afghan domestic and regional factors fueling the war. On July 12, USIP held a panel discussion with leading experts on how such a strategy can help win the peace in Afghanistan.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis says “we are not winning in Afghanistan,” and plans to send more U.S. troops to help Afghan security forces roll back the Taliban’s steady military gains. But many civilian and military officials and Afghan experts agree that there is no purely military solution to the war, and that military strategy should advance a broader political plan, with Afghan domestic and regional components, to seek a politically negotiated end to the conflict.  There has been little public discussion about how to align the United States’ security assistance with a push toward such a political settlement. Panelists debated the ways to do so. 

A recording of the event can be found on this event page.

Speakers

Christopher Kolenda
President and CEO, Kolenda Strategic Leadership and former Senior Advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan for the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Department of Defense (2009-2014)

Douglas Lute
Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO (2013-2017) and former Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor on Iraq and Afghanistan (2007-2013)

Laurel Miller
Former acting Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (2016-2017)

Barnett Rubin
Senior Fellow and Associate Director, Center of International Cooperation, New York University and former Senior Advisor to the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (2009-2013)

Nancy Lindborg, Opening Remarks
President, U.S. Institute of Peace

Andrew Wilder, Moderator
Vice President, Asia Center, U.S. Institute of Peace

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, center, meets with Afghan military leaders in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 24, 2017. As President Donald Trump decides whether to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan, his administration is divided along familiar fault lines, pitting two generals, Mattis and Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, against political aides. (Johnathan Ernst/Pool via The New York Times)
U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, center, meets with Afghan military leaders in Kabul, Afghanistan. Photo Courtesy of The New York Times/Johnathan Ernst

Related Publications

Breaking the Stalemate: Biden Can Use the U.S.-Taliban Deal to Bring Peace

Breaking the Stalemate: Biden Can Use the U.S.-Taliban Deal to Bring Peace

Thursday, February 25, 2021

By: Scott Worden

On the eve of the one-year anniversary of the U.S.-Taliban agreement, Afghanistan remains unfortunately far away from peace. The historic agreement paved the way for a full U.S. withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and the start of intra-Afghan talks on a political settlement of the conflict. As the May 1 withdrawal deadline nears, the Biden administration is undertaking a rapid Afghanistan policy review to determine its overall strategy toward the slow-moving intra-Afghan negotiations in Doha, Qatar. A key reason for the lack of movement in talks is that both sides are anxiously waiting to see what Biden decides. 

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Peace Processes

Afghan Peace Talks: Could a Third-Party Mediator Help?

Afghan Peace Talks: Could a Third-Party Mediator Help?

Thursday, February 18, 2021

By: Scott Smith

At present, the Afghan peace negotiations (APN) between the Afghan government and the Taliban do not involve any third-party presence beyond hosting and supporting roles. The parties to the conflict and members of the international community might consider the benefits of a neutral, third-party mediator to help resolve the impasses that have dogged and delayed the negotiations so far. While the presence of a mediator does not guarantee success, there are very few examples of a significant peace agreement that has been reached without some sort of third-party facilitation or mediation.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Peace Processes; Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

How to Prevent Fresh Hostilities as Afghan Peace Talks Progress

How to Prevent Fresh Hostilities as Afghan Peace Talks Progress

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

By: Meghan L. O’Sullivan; Vikram J. Singh; Johnny Walsh

Many peace processes experience at least short-term reversions to violence. Even a successful Afghan peace process will be at risk of the same, especially in the likely event that the United States and its allies continue to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. Ideally, such troop reductions would move in parallel with de-escalatory measures by the Taliban and other armed actors on the ground. A healthy dose of realism is in order, however. Though the Taliban and others in Afghanistan are unlikely to ever fully disarm or demobilize, persistent resources and attention from the United States and its allies can help prevent any regression to full-scale violence during the years of any peace agreement’s implementation.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Peace Processes

View All Publications