Seth G. Jones

Photo of Seth Jones
Associate Director, International Security and Defense Policy Center
Washington Office

Education

Ph.D. and M.A. in political science, University of Chicago; A.B., Bowdoin College

Media Resources

This researcher is available for interviews.

To arrange an interview, contact the RAND Office of Media Relations at (310) 451-6913, or email media@rand.org.

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Overview

Seth G. Jones is associate director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corporation, as well as an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University's School for Advanced International Studies (SAIS). He served as the representative for the commander, U.S. Special Operations Command, to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations. Before that, he served as a plans officer and advisor to the commanding general, U.S. Special Operations Forces, in Afghanistan (Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command–Afghanistan).

Jones specializes in counterinsurgency and counterterrorism, including a focus on Afghanistan, Pakistan, and al Qa'ida. He is the author of Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of al Qa'ida after 9/11 (W.W. Norton, 2012) and In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan (W. W. Norton), which won the 2010 Council on Foreign Relations Silver Medal for Best Book of the Year. He is also the author of The Rise of European Security Cooperation (Cambridge University Press, 2007). Jones has published articles in a range of journals, such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, and International Security, as well as in such newspapers and magazines as the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal.

Among his many RAND publications are Afghanistan's Local War (2010), Counterinsurgency in Pakistan (2010), How Terrorist Groups End: Lessons for Countering Al Qa'ida (2009), and Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan (2008). Jones is also coauthor of RAND's series of reports on nation-building.

Jones received his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.

Previous Positions

Representative for the commander, U.S. Special Operations Command, to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations; Plans officer and advisor to the commanding general, U.S. Special Operations Forces, in Afghanistan

Recent Projects

  • Counterterrorism efforts against al Qa'ida
  • How terrorist groups end
  • Counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan
  • Best practices in nation-building

Selected Publications

Seth G. Jones "Al Qaeda in Afghanistan," in Bruce Hoffman and Fernando Reinares, Leader-Led Jihad, Columbia University Press (forthcoming)

Seth G. Jones, "The False Promise of the Arab Uprisings," Foreign Affairs, 92(1), 2013

Seth G. Jones, Hunting in the Shadows: The Pursuit of al Qa'ida after 9/11, W.W. Norton, 2012

Seth G. Jones, "Think Again: Al Qaeda," Foreign Policy, (193), 2012

Seth G. Jones, Afghanistan's Local War: Building Local Defense Forces, RAND (MG-1002-MCIA), 2010

Seth G. Jones, In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan, W.W. Norton, 2010

Seth G. Jones and Martin Libicki, How Terrorist Groups End: Lessons for Countering al Qa'ida, RAND (MG-741-1-RC), 2008

Seth G. Jones, "The Rise of Afghanistan's Insurgency," International Security, 32, 2008

Honors & Awards

  • RAND President's Award, 2008
  • 2010 Council on Foreign Relations Silver Medal for Best Book of the Year, Council on Foreign Relations
  • RAND President's Award, 2012

Recent Media Appearances

Interviews: ABC; Al Hurra; BBC; Chicago Tribune; Christian Science Monitor; CNN; CNN International; C-SPAN; Dallas Morning News; Financial Times; International Herald Tribune; Los Angeles Times; MSNBC; National Public Radio; Newsday; Newsweek; New York Times; San Diego Union-Tribune; San Jose Mercury News; Time Magazine; USA Today; U.S. News & World Report; Voice of America; Wall Street Journal; Washington Post

Commentary: Christian Science Monitor; Council on Foreign Relations; Financial Times; Foreign Affairs; Foreign Policy; International Herald Tribune; Newsweek; New York Post; New York Times; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; Politico; Survival: Global Politics and Strategy; U.S. News & World Report; Wall Street Journal; Washington Post

Commentary

  • A suicide car bomb hit two diplomatic vehicles entering the Indian Embassy in Kabul on July 7, 2008

    Book Review: A Reporter Analyzes the Driving Role of Pakistan in the Afghan War

    With its focus on Pakistan, Gall's “The Wrong Enemy” is a valuable contribution to a body of work on the American war in Afghanistan that has become stale and hackneyed. It provides a raw, unvarnished look at one of the darkest and least understood parts of the war.

    Apr 11, 2014 | NYTimes.com

  • Afghan Mujahideen leader Abdul Rassoul Sayyaf talks with his supporters before registering as a candidate for the 2014 Afghan presidential election

    Presidential Candidates Need Multiethnic Consensus

    While many policymakers and analysts focus on who will be the next president of Afghanistan, the more important question may be whether the country's Pashtun, Uzbek, Tajik, Hazara, and other major constituencies will support the 2014 election's outcome.

    Dec 23, 2013 | Council on Foreign Relations

  • A suspected al Qaeda militant holds his head as he stands with co-defendants behind bars at the state security court of appeals in Sanaa March 2013

    Whither al Qaeda: A 'Tri-alogue' with Brian Michael Jenkins, Seth Jones, and Andrew Liepman

    Recent comments by key U.S. lawmakers have again raised the issue of where the United States is in its campaign against al Qaeda. This has left some to wonder if the terrorism threat is increasing and if Americans are not as safe as they were a year or two ago. Three senior RAND analysts offer their take.

    Dec 10, 2013 | The RAND Blog

  • Afghan President Hamid Karzai attends the last day of the Loya Jirga, in Kabul November 24, 2013

    Just Ignore Karzai and Press On

    As important as a bilateral security agreement is to formalize America's long-term presence in Afghanistan. The current draft doesn't spell out the details of a U.S. military presence after 2014, including the size, composition, and strategy of U.S. forces. Those details are what matter most.

    Nov 26, 2013 | The Wall Street Journal

  • Somali National Army soldiers stand at attention in a training camp

    A Threat to U.S. Interests in East Africa

    The Shabab terrorist attack at Westgate Mall in Kenya and its follow-up attacks in the country are a stark reminder that the Somalia-based group poses a threat to the United States and its interests in East Africa, writes Seth G. Jones.

    Oct 2, 2013 | NYTimes.com

  • Syrian-Americans rallying in favor of proposed U.S. military action, outside the U.S. Capitol

    Objectives in Syria? Look at U.S. Targets

    If you want to understand the Obama administration's objectives in Syria, don't just listen to what officials say — watch what they bomb, writes Seth G. Jones. There are at least four sets of potential political objectives. Each is linked to a different set of targets.

    Sep 10, 2013 | Politico

  • Fighters from Islamist Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra

    Syria's Growing Jihad

    The escalating war in Syria presents a growing threat to the Middle East and the West more broadly. Led by groups like Jabhat al-Nusra (the Victory Front), an al-Qaeda-affiliated organization, Syria is becoming a training ground for foreign fighters and a microcosm of sectarian conflict.

    Sep 3, 2013 | Survival: Global Politics and Strategy

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    Embassy Closings and the al Qaeda Threat

    Many people, including President Obama, have talked about al Qaeda’s imminent defeat. But right now, all signs indicate that the group founded by Osama bin Laden is far from dead.

    Aug 5, 2013 | The RAND Blog

  • Egyptian men talking in Idfo, Aswan, EG, January 2013

    The Enduring Mirage of the Arab Spring

    U.S. policy should not be hamstrung by a narrow focus on democratization, writes Seth G. Jones. More than ever, the United States and its allies should think first about protecting their vital strategic interests in Egypt and the region.

    Jul 22, 2013 | ForeignAffairs.com

  • 'Remnants of an Army' by Elizabeth Butler portraying William Brydon arriving at the gates of Jalalabad as the only survivor of a 16,500 strong evacuation from Kabul in January 1842.

    Book Review: 'Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839–42' by William Dalrymple

    While Dalrymple's account of the British retreat is masterful, his effort to generate lessons for today is at times simplistic, writes Seth Jones. Massive social and political changes in Afghanistan make it thorny to pull many lessons from the first Anglo-Afghan war.

    Jun 26, 2013 | The Washington Post

  • Nawaz Sharif billboard on Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) Headquarters

    Preventing a Nuclear 'Great Game'

    America's imminent withdrawal from Afghanistan raises the possibility of renewed tension between Pakistan and India. With this month's election of Nawaz Sharif as Pakistan's next prime minister, Islamabad and New Delhi have a fleeting window of opportunity to improve relations.

    May 30, 2013 | The Wall Street Journal

  • Nigerian troops march toward an Air Force C-130 Hercules

    The Benefits of U.S. Drones in West Africa

    The establishment of a U.S. base in Niger is intended to facilitate intelligence collection and will provide a more complete picture of militant movements in Niger, Mali, and other countries in the Sahel, writes Seth Jones. The U.S. will share this intelligence with Malian and French forces.

    Apr 5, 2013 | U.S. News & World Report

  • Afghan Border Police and U.S. Army Soldiers hike to an observation point along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border

    What Went Wrong in Afghanistan? Allowing a Sanctuary in Pakistan

    Ten years after the United States helped overthrow the Taliban regime, it is remarkable that successive U.S. administrations have refused to target the Taliban safe haven in Baluchistan, writes Seth Jones.

    Mar 5, 2013 | Foreign Policy

  • 120404 Mali faces sanctions as Islamists rebels advance

    The al Qaeda Threat in North Africa

    Last week's terrorist attack at the In Amenas gas complex in Algeria, along with the recent success of the militant groups fighting government forces in Mali, indicate al Qaeda and other terrorist groups are gaining influence in North Africa. RAND experts weigh in on the latest developments.

    Jan 24, 2013 | RAND.org

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    Book Review: 'The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor' by Jake Tapper

    Tapper spends too much time providing tactical details of battles and too little offering a nuanced, thoughtful explanation of why the U.S. Army struggled so much in Nuristan, writes Seth G. Jones.

    Jan 14, 2013 | The Washington Post

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    Moving Beyond Afghanistan's Soviet Legacy

    In 2014, Afghanistan will hold its third presidential election since the fall of the Taliban. If the country can hold reasonably free and fair elections, and defeated candidates can agree to step aside, Afghanistan has a chance of moving beyond its Soviet legacy, writes Seth G. Jones.

    Jan 10, 2013 | U.S. News & World Report

  • a huge demonstration marched to the federal palace to protest against the draft constitution and the constitutional decree announced by President Mohamed Morsi

    The Mirage of the Arab Spring

    Like it or not, the United States counts among its allies a number of authoritarian Arab countries, and they are essential partners in protecting its interests, writes Seth G. Jones. The normative hope that liberal democracy may flourish in the future must be balanced by the need to work with governments and societies as they exist today.

    Jan 3, 2013 | Foreign Affairs, Jan/Feb 2013

  • U.S. Army Soldiers prepare to board a CH-47 Chinook helicopter on Camp Marmal in Afghanistan, Sept. 9.

    Afghan Drawdown Numbers May Obscure Larger Questions

    The number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan is only one of several important policy choices—and not necessarily the most important one, writes Seth G. Jones. For example: What will the U.S. do about the insurgent sanctuary in Pakistan?

    Nov 28, 2012 | RAND.org

  • U.S. Army counter terrorism course

    Difficult Questions on Today's Terrorist Threat

    Much like the struggle against the Soviet Union and Communism during the Cold War, it appears increasingly likely that the struggle against radical Islamic groups will last several decades, writes Seth G. Jones.

    Oct 22, 2012 | RAND.org

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    Afghan Training Violence: Repairing the Vetting Process Is Key

    While Taliban infiltration poses an obvious threat to the Afghan Local Police program and NATO forces, the greater threat may be in exacerbating political tension between the United States and Afghanistan, writes Seth Jones.

    Sep 6, 2012 | RAND.org

  • Al Qaeda's War for Syria

    Assuming Assad's regime eventually collapses, a robust al Qaeda presence will undermine transition efforts and pose a major threat to regional stability, writes Seth Jones.

    Jul 27, 2012 | The Wall Street Journal

  • Al Qaeda Is Far from Defeated

    As the administration looks eastward—a strategy that incorporates China's rise—underestimating al Qaeda would be a dangerous mistake, writes Seth G. Jones.

    Apr 30, 2012 | The Wall Street Journal

  • Think Again: Al Qaeda

    Predictions of al Qaeda's imminent demise are rooted more in wishful thinking and politicians' desire for applause lines than in rigorous analysis, writes Seth G. Jones.

    Apr 24, 2012 | Foreign Policy

  • Al Qaeda in Iran

    Iran is in many ways a safer territory from which al Qaeda can operate. The United States has targeted al Qaeda in Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, and other countries, but it has limited operational reach in Iran, writes Seth G. Jones.

    Jan 29, 2012 | ForeignAffairs.com

  • Why the Haqqani Network Is the Wrong Target

    In focusing on the Haqqani network—which enjoys little popular support in Afghanistan—the United States is neglecting the more important (and difficult) task of dealing with the Taliban sanctuary in Pakistan's Baluchistan Province, writes Seth G. Jones.

    Nov 6, 2011 | ForeignAffairs.com

  • Security from the Bottom Up

    If the Afghan government is to have a chance of defeating the Taliban, its national-security forces must successfully leverage the country's many competing factions, village by village, writes Seth G. Jones.

    Oct 7, 2011 | TIME

  • Awlaki's Death Hits al-Qaeda's Social Media Strategy

    Though Awlaki will be difficult to replace—since he effectively coupled both propaganda and operations—al-Qaeda will continue to plan attacks overseas against Western targets, writes Seth Jones.

    Sep 30, 2011 | BBC

  • Is It Time to Withdraw from Afghanistan?

    Without the support of U.S. troops, the Afghan government would likely collapse to Taliban forces, backed by neighboring Pakistan, writes Seth G. Jones.

    Sep 19, 2011 | The New York Times Upfront

  • Obama on Afghanistan: Strategic Drawdown or Rush for the Door?

    Most major plots and attacks, including 9/11 and 7/7, were directly linked to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. Travel there has been essential to improving bomb-making skills, receiving strategic and tactical guidance, and undergoing religious indoctrination, writes Seth Jones.

    Jun 23, 2011 | guardian.co.uk

  • Focus on Economic Aid to Pakistan

    It makes little sense to abandon Pakistan and cut off all financial assistance...but America could reduce part of its security assistance, focusing instead on economic and humanitarian aid, writes Seth Jones.

    May 10, 2011 | NYTimes.com

  • Beating Back the Taliban

    There is a growing recognition among senior Taliban leaders that they are losing momentum in parts of southern Afghanistan, their longtime stronghold, writes Seth Jones.

    Mar 14, 2011 | ForeignPolicy.com

  • Take the War to Pakistan

    The United States and Pakistan must target Taliban leaders in Baluchistan. There are several ways to do it, and none requires military forces, writes Seth G. Jones.

    Dec 4, 2009 | The New York Times

  • Path to a Pashtun Rebellion in Afghanistan

    The discussion of American troop numbers misunderstands the subtle nuances of fighting a war in areas inhabited by fiercely independent Pashtun tribes, whose culture and traditions are under severe threat from the Taliban, writes Seth Jones.

    Oct 2, 2009 | Washington Post online

  • Going Local: The Key to Afghanistan

    The rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan is now President Barack Obama's war, one he pledged to win during his election campaign. One of the biggest problems, however, is that since late 2001, the United States has crafted its Afghanistan strategy on a fatally flawed assumption, writes Seth Jones.

    Aug 8, 2009 | The Wall Street Journal

  • Mullah Sprung from Gitmo Jail Now Leads Foe in Afghan Campaign

    As Marine Corps forces roll into southern Afghanistan, they face an enemy familiar to US officials — Mullah Zakir, a former Guantanamo Bay prisoner who now leads a reconstituted Taliban, writes Seth G. Jones.

    Jul 5, 2009 | New York Post

  • South Asia's Taliban Problem

    For India, the development of a conducive environment on its western flank for groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Muhammad has already resulted in sophisticated terrorist attacks on Indian soil. While there is good reason for India and its neighbors to be concerned, there is considerable misunderstanding of the threat, writes Seth Jones.

    Apr 14, 2009 | NYTimes.com

  • Going the Distance

    Afghanistan has a reputation as a graveyard of empires, based as much on lore as on reality.... Yes, the situation is serious, but it's far from doomed. We can still turn things around if we strive for a better understanding of the Afghan insurgency and work to exploit its many weaknesses, writes Seth G. Jones.

    Feb 15, 2009 | The Washington Post

  • Backlash Against Terror

    The recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, are part of a disturbing trend across the Muslim world of groups that target civilians in the name of Islam. Less visible to Western eyes, but potentially just as significant, is a growing backlash among Muslims who condemn such attacks as unethical, writes Seth Jones.

    Dec 21, 2008 | The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

  • The Backlash Against Terror

    The recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, are part of a disturbing trend across the Muslim world of groups that target civilians in the name of Islam. Less visible to Western eyes, but potentially just as significant, is a growing backlash among Muslims who condemn such attacks as unethical, writes Seth Jones.

    Dec 8, 2008 | Ethics Newsline, a publication of the Institute for Global Ethics

  • Stop the 'War' on Terror: Calling It a 'War' Is a Boon to Terrorist Recruiters

    Military might against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups isn't working – and no wonder. After studying the record of 648 terrorist groups between 1968 and 2006, we've found that military force has rarely been effective in defeating this enemy, write Seth Jones and Martin C. Libicki.

    Aug 6, 2008 | Christian Science Monitor

  • How to Save Karzai

    The United States and other NATO countries should stop undermining Hamid Karzai now, shore up support for him as the democratically elected president of Afghanistan, and help him show progress, writes Seth G. Jones.

    Jul 15, 2008 | Foreign Policy

  • America is Making a Difference in Eastern Afghanistan

    [The United States] has made some progress against the Taliban and other insurgent groups in eastern Afghanistan, and created a window of opportunity to spread this elsewhere, writes Seth G. Jones.

    Apr 1, 2008 | Globe and Mail

  • Afghan Problem is Regional

    Afghan Problem is Regional, in United Press International.

    Jul 4, 2007 | United Press International

  • Afghanistan: Why Canada Should Stay

    Afghanistan: Why Canada Should Stay, in the Toronto Star.

    May 7, 2007 | Toronto Star

  • Flagging Ally: Pakistan's Lapses Are Hurting the War on Terror

    Published commentary by RAND staff: Flagging Ally: Pakistan's Lapses Are Hurting the War on Terror, in the San Diego Union-Tribune.

    Mar 18, 2007 | San Diego Union-Tribune

  • Afghanistan's Local Insurgency

    Published commentary by RAND staff: Afghanistan's Local Insurgency, in International Herald Tribune.

    Jan 31, 2007 | International Herald Tribune

  • Pakistan's Tribal Deals Aren't Working

    Published commentary by RAND staff: Pakistan's Tribal Deals Aren't Working, in International Herald Tribune.

    Dec 28, 2006 | International Herald Tribune

  • How to Curb Rising Suicide Terrorism in Afghanistan

    Published commentary by RAND staff: How to Curb Rising Suicide Terrorism in Afghanistan, in Christian Science Monitor.

    Jul 18, 2006 | Christian Science Monitor

  • Striking Iran Is an Option, Not Inevitable

    Published commentary by RAND staff: Striking Iran Is an Option, Not Inevitable, in Christian Science Monitor.

    Apr 11, 2006 | Christian Science Monitor

  • Let's Avoid Another Trans-Atlantic Feud

    Published commentary by RAND staff: Let's Avoid Another Trans-Atlantic Feud, in International Herald Tribune.

    Jan 13, 2006 | International Herald Tribune

  • The Danger Next Door

    Published commentary by RAND staff: The Danger Next Door in the New York Times.

    Sep 23, 2005 | New York Times

  • Heading Off European Arms to China

    Published commentary by RAND staff.

    Mar 2, 2005 | The Hill

  • A Chance to Clean Up the Palestinian Authority

    Published commentary by RAND staff.

    Jan 6, 2005 | Financial Times

  • Why Allies Send Spooks to America

    Published commentary by RAND staff.

    Oct 25, 2004 | International Herald Tribune

  • A Dangerous Peace

    Kabul has slipped into a nervous tension. Early last week President Hamid Karzai surprised his fellow Afghans and foreign diplomats by choosing to drop Defense Minister Mohammed Fahim from his presidential ticket in favor of Ahmed Zia Masood, the brother of the late Ahmed Shah Masood, a well-respected mujahedin leader.

    Aug 9, 2004 | Newsweek

  • Gaza pullout - a Cynic's Path to 'Peace'

    Published commentary by RAND staff.

    Apr 29, 2004 | Christian Science Monitor

  • The U.N.'s Strengths and Weaknesses in Iraq

    Published commentary by RAND staff.

    Feb 18, 2004 | San Diego Tribune

  • Leaving Iraq Too Soon Leads to Failure

    If the United States wants to succeed in rebuilding Iraq, history shows it will need to keep forces stationed there for at least five to seven years - maybe longer.

    Dec 10, 2003 | Newsday

  • America's Record on Nation Building

    commentaries by RAND Staff: insightful commentaries on current events, published in newspapers, magazines and journals worldwide.

    Jun 13, 2003 | The New York Times

Publications