Determining U.S. Commitments in Afghanistan

Published in: The Washington Quarterly, v. 38, no. 1, Spring 2015, p. 107-124

Posted on RAND.org on May 21, 2015

by Stephen Watts, Sean Mann

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As the Obama administration's tenure winds down and the United States withdraws nearly all of its troops from Afghanistan, debates about the nature and scale of future U.S. involvement in Afghanistan continue. This article first sets out the reasons why Afghanistan is--conditionally--worth continued U.S. commitment well beyond the end of the Obama administration. It then examines the challenges that the United States will face in realizing its goals through a discussion of both Afghanistan and similar environments. Although not insuperable, these challenges are substantial. U.S. decision makers will have to enter into a long-term commitment to Afghanistan with the understanding that the stakes in the country make a relatively low-cost gamble on its future advisable, but the odds of failure are nonetheless sobering. Finally, it lays out the basic elements of a long-term strategy for Afghanistan, including ways to keep costs within the bounds justified by expected gains and a discussion of the "red lines" that should trigger U.S. withdrawal if breached.

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