In December 2019, Congress established the Afghanistan Study Group and tasked it 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 Study Group’s report, released on February 3, 2021, concluded that there is a real opportunity to align U.S. policies, actions, and messaging behind achieving a durable peace settlement to end four decades of violent conflict in Afghanistan. This new approach would protect U.S. national interests in Afghanistan and the region by reducing terrorist threats, promoting regional stability, and protecting important gains in human rights and democratic institutions that have been made in Afghanistan. Active regional diplomacy could help generate a consensus among Afghanistan’s neighbors that all would benefit in both economic and security terms from supporting and sustaining peace in Afghanistan rather than fueling conflict through proxies.

Ultimately, concluding a sustainable peace agreement will be the responsibility of the Afghan parties to the ongoing negotiations, but the United States can play a key role in determining if this opportunity is taken. A responsible, predictable, and coherent set of U.S. actions could greatly increase the chances of a peaceful resolution to forty years of conflict; a rash and rushed approach could increase the chances of a breakdown of order in Afghanistan that threatens the security and interests of the United States and its allies. 

The Study Group began its work in April 2020, shortly after the United States and the Taliban signed the Doha agreement that led to the current negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government. Those negotiations have created a pathway to peace, one that the Study Group believes can allow the return of our men and women in uniform under conditions that honor the sacrifices that have been made and that protect U.S. interests. But if that opportunity is to be fully exploited, there needs to be a significant revision of U.S. policy. 
 
The most important revision is to ensure that a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops is based not on an inflexible timeline but on all parties fulfilling their commitments, including the Taliban making good on its promises to contain terrorist groups and reduce violence against the Afghan people, and making compromises to achieve a political settlement.
 
Other elements of this policy revision are:

  • An immediate diplomatic effort to extend the current May 2021 withdrawal date in order to give the peace process sufficient time to produce an acceptable result. 
  • A recognition that, in addition to conducting counterterrorism operations and supporting the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces, a key objective of the ongoing U.S. military presence is to help create conditions for an acceptable peace agreement. The February 2020 Doha agreement and the subsequent troop reductions clearly demonstrated that the United States is prepared to withdraw from Afghanistan. It should not, however, simply hand a victory to the Taliban. 
  • Continued basic support, with other donors, for the essential institutions of the Afghan state, including security institutions, while continuing to message our Afghan partners that this support is not open-ended and is conditioned on progress in the peace talks. A key consideration of the Study Group was that while we support the values of the Afghan government and recognize that its collapse could create significant problems for the region and beyond, U.S. decisions about America’s presence in Afghanistan cannot be held hostage to the divisions, ineffectiveness, corruption, and shortsightedness that the Afghan government has too often displayed. 
  • Continued support for courageous members of Afghan civil society who have been instrumental in securing essential gains in rights, education, and health and who have been and will continue to be key in supporting a sustained peace. 
  • A reemphasis on diplomacy and negotiation, including a regional diplomatic strategy implemented over the longer term. There is broad regional support for a U.S. withdrawal that is responsible rather than precipitate and chaotic. Many countries in the region, especially Pakistan, have influence over the Taliban and other participants in the peace process. They should actively use this influence to make the peace process successful because they will ultimately benefit from its success. 
  • The harnessing and coordination of international support for a post-agreement Afghan state. Donors who, with us, have helped rebuild Afghanistan over the past twenty years are willing, based on certain conditions, to also sustain support for a post-agreement Afghan state. These efforts must be unified and coherent.

By focusing on the single objective of achieving an acceptable peace agreement that ends the conflict between the Taliban and the Afghan government, U.S. messaging, policies, and actions can finally be aligned. The purpose of the U.S. troop presence should also be clear: not to pursue an endless war but to support a peace process that will allow American troops to return home under conditions that guarantee our national interests.

Related Publications

Asfandyar Mir on Why ISIS-K Attacked Moscow

Asfandyar Mir on Why ISIS-K Attacked Moscow

Monday, April 1, 2024

By: Asfandyar Mir, Ph.D.

ISIS-K’s recent attack on the Russian capital was, in part, intended to assert the organization’s growing capacity to inflict terror beyond its home base of Afghanistan. “By reaching Moscow, ISIS-K is trying to signal it has the geographic reach to hit anywhere in the world,” says USIP’s Asfandyar Mir.

Type: Podcast

Moscow Concert Hall Attack Will Have Far-Reaching Impact

Moscow Concert Hall Attack Will Have Far-Reaching Impact

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

By: Mary Glantz, Ph.D.;  Gavin Helf, Ph.D.;  Asfandyar Mir, Ph.D.;  Andrew Watkins

On Friday, terrorists attacked the Crocus City Hall outside Moscow leaving 140 people dead and 80 others critically wounded. Soon after, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack. The terrorist group, which is headquartered in Iraq and Syria, has several branches, including in South and Central Asia. Press reports suggest the U.S. government believes the Afghanistan-based affiliate of the Islamic State, ISIS-Khorasan (ISIS-K), was behind the attack. The Biden administration has publicly noted that it had warned the Russian government of the terrorism threat in early March in line with the procedure of “Duty to Warn.”

Type: Question and Answer

Global Policy

The Challenges Facing Afghans with Disabilities

The Challenges Facing Afghans with Disabilities

Thursday, February 29, 2024

By: Belquis Ahmadi

In Afghanistan, obtaining accurate data on the number of persons with disabilities — including gender-disaggregated information — has always been a challenging endeavor. But based on the data we do have, it’s clear that more than four decades of violent conflict have left a considerable portion of the Afghan population grappling with various forms of disabilities, both war-related and otherwise. And the pervasive lack of protective mechanisms, social awareness and empathy surrounding disability continue to pose formidable challenges for individuals with disabilities, with women being disproportionately affected.

Type: Analysis

GenderHuman Rights

What to Expect from the Doha Conference on Afghanistan

What to Expect from the Doha Conference on Afghanistan

Thursday, February 15, 2024

By: Kate Bateman;  Andrew Watkins

On February 18-19, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will convene a meeting on Afghanistan in Doha to discuss the ongoing humanitarian and human rights crises and the recent report on a way forward by U.N. Special Coordinator for Afghanistan Feridun Sinirlioğlu. Special envoys from U.N. member states and international organizations will attend; representatives from Afghan civil society, women’s groups and Taliban officials have also been invited. The conference is a critical, high-level opportunity for donors and the region to chart next steps on how to improve the situation in Afghanistan and engage with the Taliban regime.

Type: Question and Answer

Global Policy

View All Publications


Related Projects

Afghanistan Study Group

Afghanistan Study Group

Past Project

The congressionally mandated Afghanistan Study Group (ASG) was 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.” After ten months of extensive deliberations and consultations, the ASG submitted its report containing forward-looking recommendations to Congress, the Biden administration, and the public.

Global PolicyPeace ProcessesViolent Extremism

View All