On October 29, 2009, the RAND Center for Middle East Public Policy convened a half-day symposium of experts — including Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, Ambassador James Dobbins, Senator Carl Levin, and others — and journalists to address assumptions and alternatives for U.S. policy in Afghanistan. In the first session, panelists spoke about counterinsurgency strategy. Among the topics they addressed were military troop levels needed to support a counterinsurgency strategy, the role of Afghan security forces, and potential costs of increased military operations. The second session covered counterterrorism, including the degree to which the U.S. should consider Afghanistan a national security interest, the nature of military operations against the Taliban and al-Qaida, regional political stability, and military troop levels in the region. The final panel was on containment. Foreign policy experts spoke about strategic options and U.S. policy in Afghanistan. Among the issues they addressed were military disengagement, regional security and political stability, as well as pitfalls and challenges in any sustained military presence in the region. Each panel also answered questions from the audience.

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