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.


Scott Smith

Mr. Scott Smith, Senior Afghanistan Expert and ASG Lead Writer

Scott Smith is a senior expert for Afghanistan peace processes at the U.S. Institute of Peace. He was previously the director of USIP's Afghanistan and Central Asia Programs between 2012 and 2016. From 2017 to 2019, he was the director for political affairs at the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

Prior to joining USIP in April 2012, Smith spent 13 years at the United Nations, focusing primarily on Afghanistan and democratization issues. He served as the senior special assistant to the special representative of the secretary-general in Kabul from January 2009 to August 2010. From June 2007 to January 2009, he served as a senior political affairs officer and team leader for Afghanistan in the department of peacekeeping operations. As the desk officer for the 2004 Afghan presidential elections in the U.N.'s Electoral Assistance Division, Smith oversaw the planning, establishment and financing of the U.N. electoral team in Afghanistan. Prior to 2004, Smith held several political affairs officer positions, including as the Afghanistan desk officer from 2002-2003 and as the political adviser to the United Nations Political Office in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea.

He first started working in Afghanistan in 1994-1995 with a French humanitarian organization, Solidarités. Smith is the author of Afghanistan's Troubled Transition: Politics, Peacekeeping and the 2004 Presidential Election, as well as a number of articles and book chapters. He is an adjunct professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs.

Smith holds a bachelor of science in foreign service from Georgetown University. He also holds a master's degree in international affairs from Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs.


Andrew Wilder

Dr. Andrew Wilder, Vice President, Asia Programs, USIP 

Andrew Wilder is the vice president of Asia programs. He joined USIP in August 2010 as the director of Afghanistan and Pakistan Programs. Prior to joining the Institute, he served as research director for politics and policy at the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University. Previously, Wilder served as founder and director of Afghanistan's first independent policy research institution, the Kabul-based Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit (AREU). This was preceded by more than 10 years managing humanitarian and development programs in Pakistan and Afghanistan, including with Save the Children, International Rescue Committee, and Mercy Corps International.

Wilder is the author of The Pakistani Voter: Electoral Politics and Voting Behaviour in the Punjab (Oxford University Press, 1999), and has written numerous other publications. He has conducted extensive research exploring issues relating to state-building, development and stabilization efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Recent research has focused on electoral politics in Afghanistan, and the effectiveness of aid in promoting stabilization objectives in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Wilder holds a bachelor’s degree in foreign service from Georgetown University. He also holds a master’s degree in law and diplomacy and a doctorate from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

Members:

Senior Advisors

Related Publications

Five Things to Know About the Afghan Peace Talks

Five Things to Know About the Afghan Peace Talks

Monday, September 14, 2020

By: Vikram J. Singh; Scott Smith; Scott Worden; Belquis Ahmadi; Johnny Walsh

The intra-Afghan negotiations that began on Saturday represent a watershed moment in the war: the first direct, official talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government. These historic talks commenced 19 years and one day after al-Qaida's 9/11 terrorist attacks drew the United States into Afghanistan's civil war. Just getting the Afghan government and the Afghan Taliban to the table is an accomplishment. The main reason the talks materialized is the U.S.-Taliban agreement signed in February of this year; that agreement delivered a timetable for the eventual withdrawal of foreign troops, which met the Taliban’s years-long precondition for opening talks with the Afghan government.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Peace Processes

Afghan Government: ‘Optimistic’ on Opening Talks with Taliban

Afghan Government: ‘Optimistic’ on Opening Talks with Taliban

Friday, August 28, 2020

By: USIP Staff

Afghanistan’s government is optimistic that the delayed peace talks with the Taliban can start soon, acting Foreign Minister Mohammed Haneef Atmar told an online audience. Atmar’s comments are the latest sign that one reason for the five-month delay, disputes over the two sides’ release of prisoners they have been holding, may be nearly resolved. Taliban attacks on government forces have continued, and civilian casualties have remained high, as the two sides have wrestled over conditions for starting the talks as envisioned in a February agreement between the United States and the Taliban.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Peace Processes

Assessing Afghanistan’s 2019 Presidential Election

Assessing Afghanistan’s 2019 Presidential Election

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

By: Colin Cookman

Afghanistan’s current electoral system structures Afghan political dynamics, shapes election-day outcomes, and influences competition between organized interest groups in Afghanistan. Drawing on a unique set of results data from the September 2019 presidential election and past elections, this report analyzes where and how prospective Afghan voters were able to participate in the 2019 polls, the decision making behind and adjudication of disputes over which votes would be counted as valid, and how the available results compare with political trends evident in prior elections.

Type: Peaceworks

Democracy & Governance

Afghan Peace Talks: Prisoner Release Paves Way for Direct Negotiations

Afghan Peace Talks: Prisoner Release Paves Way for Direct Negotiations

Thursday, August 13, 2020

By: Dipali Mukhopadhyay; Johnny Walsh; Scott Smith

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday said that his government would release the last batch of Taliban prisoners, ostensibly removing the final hurdle to direct negotiations with the insurgent group. Intra-Afghan negotiations were originally slated for March 10 as part of the U.S.-Taliban deal signed in late February, but were delayed due to disagreements over prisoner releases. The Afghan government and Taliban had committed to releasing 5,000 and 1,000 prisoners respectively, but the final 400 Taliban prisoners had been accused or convicted of major crimes, including murder. Ghani only made the decision to release those prisoners after he called for a consultative assembly, or loya jirga, to advise on the decision. USIP’s Afghanistan experts explain why Ghani convened the loya jirga, what to expect in the early stages of talks, and what role the United States can play.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Peace Processes

View All Publications