Determining U.S. Commitments in Afghanistan

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

Posted on on May 21, 2015

by Stephen Watts, Sean Mann

Read More

Access further information on this document at The Washington Quarterly

This article was published outside of RAND. The full text of the article can be found at the link above.

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.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation External publication series. Many RAND studies are published in peer-reviewed scholarly journals, as chapters in commercial books, or as documents published by other organizations.

Our mission to help improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis is enabled through our core values of quality and objectivity and our unwavering commitment to the highest level of integrity and ethical behavior. To help ensure our research and analysis are rigorous, objective, and nonpartisan, we subject our research publications to a robust and exacting quality-assurance process; avoid both the appearance and reality of financial and other conflicts of interest through staff training, project screening, and a policy of mandatory disclosure; and pursue transparency in our research engagements through our commitment to the open publication of our research findings and recommendations, disclosure of the source of funding of published research, and policies to ensure intellectual independence. For more information, visit

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.