Foreign Policy

A plan for peace in Afghanistan

Getty Images

U.S. policy in Afghanistan has largely failed. But it’s not necessarily because U.S. engagement in Afghanistan is wrongheaded; it’s because the key assumption upon which U.S. policy has been premised — a negotiated political settlement with the Taliban — is not achievable.

Policymakers on the Hill and in the administration must contemplate the implications of this fundamental, paradigm shift. Without a revitalized and flexible approach at this inflection point, the situation is certain to continue to unravel — potentially in catastrophic ways.

The situation remains uncertain and increasingly concerning. The National Unity Government, under President Ashraf Ghani and chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, has failed to achieve many of its promises and has lost credibility in the eyes of ordinary Afghans. Equally concerning, the security situation has deteriorated. More territory has been lost to the Taliban and large-scale attacks continue to occur in Kabul.

{mosads}The human toll also cannot be understated. The latest United Nations report marks 2016 as the deadliest year since 2009. Hundreds of thousands of Afghans, mostly young adults, have fled the country for Europe and elsewhere. Many thousands more, including women and children, have lost their lives due to conflict.


At best, the 15-year conflict, in the words of Gen. John Nicholson, America’s top commander in Afghanistan, is a “stalemate.” To change course, Nicholson believed “a few thousand additional troops” were necessary for training, advising and assisting the Afghan security forces. Just this week, Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, in testimony to Congress reiterated this call.

Certainly a request for more troops seems reasonable, but troop levels must be reflective of broader strategy.

We believe that any new policy approach must precisely define enemy lines. To that end, the intelligence community should reassess the various Taliban factions to determine whether any are genuinely interested in peace process.

Even though negotiation with the Taliban has failed, the door for peace talks should not close. Those factions of the Taliban that are willing to formally renounce violence should be encouraged to join the peace process as long as they respect the Afghan constitution. And those factions that are undermining U.S. and coalition interests and committing acts of violence against the Afghan people must be dealt with through the use of force.

The new policy approach must be charted toward stabilizing Afghanistan. It should provide the commander on the ground the flexibility to increase and decrease the troop levels and employ such troops as required. That means U.S. support of the Afghan security forces should continue, but with a new approach in mind.

In order to increase the offensive capabilities of the Afghan security forces and enable them to take the fight to the enemy, the U.S. must ensure that battlefield commanders and soldiers in the frontlines are taken care of. That means train, advise, assist efforts should expand beyond ministry and corps levels, to brigade and battalion levels. When the Taliban attacks, it is the junior officers and soldiers in the remote areas who can prevent the fall of a district and protect civilian population.

Also, at decisive points on the battlefield, the U.S. and the coalition should augment Afghan combat capabilities in the areas of close air support and indirect fire. This will bolster the ability of the Afghan security forces to hold terrain and bound how far the Taliban will push to re-take territory.

The U.S. policy in Afghanistan is at an inflection point. The United States must re-evaluate its assumptions and its approach before committing more troops to the war that has already taken 2,247 American lives and wounded 20,000 more.

We believe that despite the uncertainty and increasing insecurity in Afghanistan, the U.S. and its partners still have the opportunity to maintain a significant portion of the gains made and to manage out the unraveling occurring in a way that does not lead to catastrophic outcomes. In the final analysis, this is key. No one wants to see a repeat of the instability and large-scale loss of territory that occurred in Iraq in 2014.


Alex Gallo is senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and served as a professional staff member on the House Armed Services Committee for five years. He is a West Point graduate and combat veteran and a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School. His work has been published by The Washington Post, National Review, The Hill and Foreign Affairs.

Ahmad Mohibbi received his master’s degree in peace and conflict studies from Uppsala University as a Rotary Peace Scholar and a bachelor’s in international affairs from Lewis & Clark College. At Uppsala University, Ahmad held the special title of Central Asia Endowed Rotary Peace Fellow. Fluent in Iranian Farsi and Afghan Dari, he has worked for the U.S. Congress, the U.S. military in Afghanistan, and NATO HQ in Brussels.

The views of contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Taliban War in Afghanistan
See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video