The congressionally mandated Afghanistan Study Group (ASG) has been charged with identifying policy recommendations that “consider the implications of a peace settlement, or the failure to reach a settlement, on U.S. policy, resources, and commitments in Afghanistan.” The ASG will submit a document containing forward-looking recommendations to Congress, the administration, and the public in early 2021.

The ASG is a 15-member bipartisan group that is co-chaired by Kelly Ayotte, former U.S. senator (R-NH); Joseph Dunford, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Nancy Lindborg, USIP president and CEO. Its members bring a diversity of strategic and practical knowledge including economic, military, diplomatic, social, and geopolitical expertise, as well as experience across large and complex organizations and processes.

A senior advisors group has also been appointed by the ASG co-chairs. The senior advisors offer deep subject-matter expertise spanning a range of specialties. They will provide insights and analysis on topics being addressed by the ASG and will present their findings to the study group members on specific issues. The ASG will also consult with key external stakeholders, including allies, regional partners, multilateral institutions, and civil society and community groups, as well as the private sector, and representatives of the administration and Congress, for briefings and discussion.

Leadership

Senator Kelly Ayotte

Senator Kelly A. Ayotte, Co-Chair

Kelly Ayotte represented New Hampshire in the United States Senate from 2011-2016, where she chaired the Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and the Commerce Subcommittee on Aviation Operations.  She also served on the Budget, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Small Business and Entrepreneurship, and Aging Committees.  Senator Ayotte served as the “Sherpa” for Justice Neil Gorsuch, leading the effort to secure his confirmation to the United States Supreme Court. 

From 2004-2009, Senator Ayotte served as New Hampshire’s first female Attorney General having been appointed to that position by Republican Governor Craig Benson and reappointed twice by Democratic Governor John Lynch. Prior to that, she served as the Deputy Attorney General, Chief of the Homicide Prosecution Unit and as Legal Counsel to Governor Craig Benson. She began her career as a law clerk to the New Hampshire Supreme Court and as an associate at the McLane Middleton law firm.

Senator Ayotte serves on the boards of Blackstone, Boston Properties, Caterpillar, Newscorp, Blink Health and BAE Systems Inc.  She also serves on the advisory boards of Microsoft, Chubb Insurance, and Cirtronics.  She is a Senior Advisor to United Against Nuclear Iran and Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions. She also serves on the non-profit boards of the One Campaign, the International Republican Institute, the McCain Institute, Winning for Women, NH Veteran’s Count and NH Swim with a Mission.

Senator Ayotte co-chairs the Commission on Health Security at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.  She is a also a member of the Board of Advisors for the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Aspen Institute’s Economic Strategy Group.

Senator Ayotte graduated with honors in 1990 from the Pennsylvania State University and earned a Juris Doctor degree in 1993 from the Villanova University School of Law.  She is a native of New Hampshire and lives in Nashua with her husband, Joe, a retired Air Force combat pilot, and their two children Katherine and Jacob.


General Joseph F. Dunford

General Joseph F. Dunford Jr. (Ret), Co-Chair

General Joe Dunford, Jr. served as the 19th Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation’s highest-ranking military officer.  In this role, he was the principal military advisor to the President, Secretary of Defense, and National Security Council from 2015 to 2019. General Dunford was commissioned in 1977 and served as an infantry officer at all levels, to include commanding the 5th Marine Regiment during Operation Iraqi Freedom.  His experience leading large organizations included serving as the 36th Commandant of the Marine Corps, the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps and Commander of all U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

General Dunford also served as the Marine Corps Director of Operations, and Marine Corps Deputy Commandant for Plans, Policies and Operations. His Joint assignments included duty as the Executive Assistant to the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Chief of the Global and Multilateral Affairs Division (J-5), and Vice Director for Operations on the Joint Staff (J-3). A native of Boston, Massachusetts, General Dunford graduated from Saint Michael's College.  He also earned master’s degrees in Government from Georgetown University and in International Relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He currently serves as Chairman of the Board for the Semper Fi Fund & America’s Fund which supports our wounded, ill, and injured active duty personnel and veterans from all services.  He is a Senior Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University. He also serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the Lockheed Martin Corporation and Bessemer Securities.  He is a member the Atlantic Council’s International Advisory Board.


Nancy Lindborg

Ms. Nancy Lindborg, Co-Chair

Nancy Lindborg has served as the president and CEO of the U.S. Institute of Peace since February 2015. Created by Congress in 1984 as an independent, nonpartisan, federally funded institute to prevent, mitigate, and resolve violent conflict around the world, USIP links research, policy, training and direct action with partners in conflict-affected areas.

Prior to joining USIP, she served as the assistant administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance (DCHA) at USAID. From 2010 through 2014, Ms. Lindborg directed the efforts of more than 600 team members in nine offices focused on crisis prevention, response, recovery and transition. She also led response teams for some of the biggest challenges the world was facing at the time, including the crisis in Syria, the droughts in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, the Arab Spring, as well as the Ebola crisis.

Ms. Lindborg has spent most of her career working on issues of transition, democracy and civil society, conflict and humanitarian response. Prior to joining USAID, she was president of Mercy Corps, where she spent 14 years helping to grow the organization into a globally respected organization known for innovative programs in the most challenging environments. She previously lived and worked in Nepal and Central Asia. She was a founding member of the National Committee for North Korea and served as co-chair of the board of the US Global Leadership Coalition.

She holds a B.A. and an M.A. in English literature from Stanford University and an M.A. in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.


Michael Phelan

Mr. Michael Phelan, Director, USIP Secretariat

Michael joined USIP after working for 16 years in Congress and nearly 15 years on active duty in the U.S. Navy. He served as senior foreign policy advisor to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. He was responsible for United States policy oversight for the African continent, as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan. Prior to his Senate career, Michael served on active duty as an aviator in the United States Navy and concluded 22 years of military service in the Navy Reserve.

Michael has effectively woven his operational and policy experience over the last three decades into an uncommon understanding of U.S. and global security and the imperative to work toward human security. Among other efforts, he helped organize and pass legislation establishing within the U.S. government an essential civilian capacity to engage in areas at risk of, involved in, or in transition from conflict. He has closely examined root causes of conflict and obstacles to its resolution. Michael has sought to improve international and domestic understanding and responses to misgovernance, as well as leveraging rare opportunities to transform geopolitical environments. He has also worked to strengthen regional cooperation for security and development in Central and South Asia, as well as across East, Central, and West Africa.

His academic credentials include a bachelor’s degree from Boston College; a master’s in foreign relations from the University of San Diego; a master’s equivalent in security studies from the German Armed Forces Command and General Staff College; and a master’s in law and diplomacy from The Fletcher School at Tufts University. He is conversant in French and German.

The Afghanistan Study Group includes:

Senior Advisors

Related Publications

Bourgeois Jihad: Why Young, Middle-Class Afghans Join the Islamic State

Bourgeois Jihad: Why Young, Middle-Class Afghans Join the Islamic State

Monday, June 1, 2020

By: Borhan Osman

Ever since the Islamic State in Khorasan Province emerged in Afghanistan in 2015, policymakers and security forces have regarded it as an “imported” group that can be defeated militarily. This approach, however, fails to take into account the long-standing and complex historical and sociological factors that make the group’s ideology appealing to young, urban Afghan men and women. Based on interviews with current and former members of ISKP, this report documents the push and pull factors prompting a steady stream of young Afghans to join and support ISKP.

Type: Peaceworks

Violent Extremism

Is the Afghan Peace Process Back on Track?

Is the Afghan Peace Process Back on Track?

Thursday, May 28, 2020

By: Scott Smith

A three-day cease-fire between the Taliban and Afghan government over Eid al-Fitr expired on Tuesday. This was only the second such cessation of hostilities in the nearly two-decade war. And just two weeks ago, President Ashraf Ghani and his rival, Abdullah Abdullah, agreed to share power after a monthslong dispute over the 2019 presidential election. These developments have injected renewed hope that a political solution, negotiated among Afghans, is still possible. USIP’s Scott Smith looks it all means for the peace process, when we can expect the vital intra-Afghan negotiations to begin, and what, if any, impact COVID-19 has had on peace.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Peace Processes

Rival Afghan Leaders Agree to Share Power—Now Comes the Hard Part

Rival Afghan Leaders Agree to Share Power—Now Comes the Hard Part

Thursday, May 21, 2020

By: Scott Worden; Johnny Walsh

Last weekend, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and rival Abdullah Abdullah signed a power-sharing deal to end a months-long dispute over the 2019 presidential election. The deal comes amid a spate of high-profile violence, including a recent attack on a Kabul maternity ward by suspected ISIS perpetrators. Meanwhile, the Afghan peace process has stalled since the U.S.-Taliban deal signed at the end of February. The power-sharing agreement could address one of the key challenges to getting that process back on track. USIP’s Scott Worden and Johnny Walsh look at what the agreement entails and what it means for the peace process.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Democracy & Governance; Peace Processes

Scott Worden on the Afghan Power-Sharing Deal

Scott Worden on the Afghan Power-Sharing Deal

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

By: Scott Worden

A political deal to resolve the disputed 2019 presidential election was finally reached over the weekend. USIP’s Scott Worden says the agreement “is quite significant” because it will give the Afghan side “more political coherence to negotiate with the Taliban and, if implemented, it will show the Taliban they can’t divide Afghans.”

Type: Podcast

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