Afghanistan

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Afghanistan has long been a crossroads of world cultures, economies, politics, and militaries. RAND's early research on Afghanistan examined the 1980s Soviet military campaign and the subsequent fundamentalist Islamic regime. Since Operation Enduring Freedom, the 2001 U.S. military effort to rout the Taliban and find Osama bin Ladin's Al Qaeda network, RAND has engaged the new Afghan government, military, and people to support reconstruction, counterinsurgency, and nation-building efforts.

  • A U.S. flag is seen at a post in Deh Bala district, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, after U.S. and Afghan forces cleared Islamic State fighters from the area, July 7, 2018

    Report

    Likely Effects of a Precipitous U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan

    Jan 16, 2019

    Winning may not be an option in Afghanistan, but an early departure of U.S. forces without a peace settlement will mean choosing to lose. The result will be the weakening of deterrence and the value of American reassurance elsewhere, an increased terrorist threat, and the possibility of having to return there under worse conditions.

  • Soldiers set off for a foot patrol after disembarking from a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter in Afghanistan, September 4, 2018

    Commentary

    The Risks of Permanent War

    Sep 28, 2018

    Why is America in Afghanistan? What interests justify its sacrifices? How will the war end? If the United States finds it hard to answer such questions after nearly two decades, the coming years are unlikely to provide clarity. If a campaign has no end, it can have no objective. If it has no objective, it cannot be won.

Explore Afghanistan

  • Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad stand in the al-Khafsa area on the western bank of the Euphrates River, Syria, March 9, 2017

    Commentary

    Where Is Assad Getting His Fighters from?

    The Assad regime's defense against insurgents in Syria's ongoing civil war is being provided by forces imported from Afghanistan and Pakistan as well as Lebanon and Iraq. Most of these fighters are being trained and equipped by Iran. Could this network of foreign fighters help Iran establish a greater presence beyond the Middle East?

    Jan 4, 2018

  • Troops from the Malian Armed Forces and French soldiers conduct a joint patrol during the regional anti-insurgent Operation Barkhane in Inaloglog, Mali, October 17, 2017.

    Commentary

    Mali Is France's Afghanistan, but with a Difference

    At first glance the comparison between the French military operations in Mali and America’s involvement in Afghanistan is compelling, and in some important ways, accurate. It also presents some fundamental differences that give reason for optimism in France.

    Dec 1, 2017

  • U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi before their meeting in New Delhi, India, October 25, 2017

    Commentary

    Despite Tillerson, U.S. Won't Abandon Pakistan for India

    There is no new U.S. policy towards Pakistan and there won't be one soon. As long as the U.S. has troops in neighboring Afghanistan, it will be reliant on Pakistan for logistical support, transit, and Islamabad's influence with both the Taliban and its affiliated Haqqani Network.

    Oct 27, 2017

  • An Afghan tribal elder speaks to key leaders with the National Police, Afghan National Army, and Task Force Southwest during a shura at Camp Nolay, Helmand, Afghanistan, May 25, 2017

    Commentary

    President Trump's Recommitment to Nation-Building in Afghanistan

    In his speech on Afghanistan, President Trump maintained his stance against nation-building. But like President Obama's policy, the refreshed approach hinges on the U.S. developing Afghan government capabilities to fight the Taliban, provide for the country's long-term security, and serve as a counterterrorism partner.

    Aug 30, 2017

  • Afghanistan's new President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai (2nd L) stands next to Afghanistan's Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah (L) and his deputies as he takes the oath during his inauguration as president in Kabul September 29, 2014

    Commentary

    What Afghanistan Needs to Move Forward: A Political Solution

    Although the U.S. military's role in maintaining stability has been crucial, a real solution needs to consider Afghan politics first. The United States and the international community should push for parliamentary elections to build confidence between the government and the people.

    Aug 24, 2017

  • U.S. President Donald Trump announces his strategy for the war in Afghanistan during an address to the nation from Fort Myer, Virginia, August 21, 2017

    Commentary

    Trump's New Afghanistan Strategy: Governing from the Center?

    The president has embraced a national security establishment strategy for Afghanistan with a veneer that does not alter its essence. The result is likely to disappoint some of his supporters and to be criticized by his opponents, but it will also secure a measure of bipartisan support.

    Aug 22, 2017

  • U.S. troops assess the damage to an armored vehicle of the NATO-led military coalition after a suicide attack in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, August 2, 2017

    Commentary

    Privatizing the Military Unlikely to Be a Viable Solution in Afghanistan

    Operational contractors are now an entrenched part of the Department of Defense’s total force and are here to stay. But replacing U.S. military personnel with contractors is not likely to be a militarily effective solution for the Afghanistan problem.

    Aug 14, 2017

  • A U.S. contractor's MI-8 helicopter carries supplies to Camp Nathan Smith in Kandahar May 27, 2010.

    Commentary

    Is It a Good Idea to Privatize the War in Afghanistan?

    The CEO of the Blackwater Corporation has suggested that the U.S. should privatize the war in Afghanistan, and the administration is reportedly giving it some thought. It is important not to dismiss this plan categorically, but to consider it on the merits. Doing so highlights the risks of such a plan.

    Aug 4, 2017

  • Report

    Implications of the Security Cooperation Office Transition in Afghanistan for Special Operations Forces: An Abbreviated Report of the Study's Primary Findings

    Presents findings from six historical case studies in which the mission of special operations forces in each of the six countries transitioned over time to include some level of inclusion in the U.S. embassy's Security Cooperation Office.

    Aug 1, 2017

  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Afghan counterpart Salahuddin Rabbani shake hands after their meeting in Moscow, Russia, February 7, 2017

    Commentary

    While Americans Fight the Taliban, Putin Is Making Headway in Afghanistan

    The Russians are ramping up political, economic, and propaganda activities to improve their image and reestablish their influence amid pervasive corruption that is impeding progress in Afghanistan.

    Jul 31, 2017

  • U.S. Marines, British and Afghan troops attend a handover ceremony in Helmand province, October 26, 2014

    Commentary

    A Peace 'Surge' to End War in Afghanistan

    President Trump has no easy options in Afghanistan. A surge of U.S. commitment to negotiating a political settlement would not remove all the obstacles, but it is a prerequisite.

    Jul 24, 2017

  • Afghan local police (ALP) sit at the back of a truck near a frontline during a battle with the Taliban at Qalay-i-zal district, in Kunduz province, Afghanistan August 1, 2015

    Commentary

    Trump's Options for Afghanistan: Losing or Not Losing

    The Trump administration faces the choice of losing quickly by withdrawing from Afghanistan; losing slowly by maintaining America's current, inadequate commitment; or not losing by increasing that commitment enough to maintain a stalemate on the battlefield.

    Jun 23, 2017

  • U.S. Army Special Forces members train Iraqi fighters from Hashid Shaabi at Makhmur camp in Iraq, December 11, 2016

    Commentary

    SOF's Evolving Role: Warfare 'By, With, and Through' Local Forces

    U.S. special operations forces are not providing the muscle of the frontline combat troops fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Instead, they are providing meaningful support to the various indigenous forces. If they succeed, this model could become a standard option in the U.S. military playbook.

    May 9, 2017

  • Afghan Special Forces prepare for battle with the Taliban on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province, Afghanistan, October 10, 2016

    Testimony

    U.S. Policy Toward Afghanistan and the Region

    Afghanistan remains a key frontline state in the struggle against terrorist groups. With that in mind, the United States should make Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan an enduring part of its counterterrorism efforts.

    Apr 27, 2017

  • News Release

    Islamic State Control of People Down 83% in Iraq and 56% in Syria from Peak Levels

    The Islamic State has lost substantial control of territory and people but still conducts and inspires attacks around the world. The U.S. should pursue a light rollback strategy that relies on local forces backed by U.S. special operations forces, intelligence assets, and airpower.

    Apr 20, 2017

  • Iraqi forces advance against Islamic State militants in western Mosul, Iraq, March 6, 2017

    Report

    Rolling Back the Islamic State

    The Islamic State has lost substantial control of territory and people. But the group still conducts and inspires attacks around the world. The United States should pursue a light rollback strategy that relies on local forces backed by U.S. special operations troops, intelligence assets, and airpower.

    Apr 20, 2017

  • Afghan security forces take position during a gun battle between Taliban and Afghan security forces in Laghman province, Afghanistan, March 1, 2017

    Commentary

    How Trump Should Manage Afghanistan

    While media coverage has focused on Syria and Iraq, Afghanistan remains an important frontline state in the fight against terrorism. The Trump administration should aim to prevent the Taliban from overthrowing the Afghan government, encourage political reconciliation, and pursue terrorists that threaten the United States.

    Mar 21, 2017

  • Pakistani soldiers at an army post in the Shawal mountains along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, near a known haven for al Qaeda militants, April 29, 2006

    Commentary

    Beware the New Mujahideen: The Threat from Future Jihadist Networks

    Today's terrorist networks will multiply far beyond the wars in Iraq and Syria. When one conflict ends, these fighters often join another. It is critical they be denied safe haven and the ability to train and network in ungoverned territories.

    Mar 14, 2017

  • Afghan National Army soldiers inspect passengers at a checkpoint in eastern Afghanistan, June 29, 2015, after Islamic State fighters had seized territory from rival Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan for the first time

    Commentary

    The Islamic State-Taliban Rivalry in Afghanistan

    The weakening of the Islamic State is a positive step. But Taliban successes against the group have strengthened the Taliban's power, bolstered its reputation, and complicated U.S. and Afghan government efforts to wind down the Afghan war.

    Nov 28, 2016

  • Supporters of Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah take down a large portrait of Afghan President Hamid Karzai before a gathering in Kabul July 8, 2014

    Commentary

    Book Review: 'A Kingdom of Their Own: The Family Karzai and the Afghan Disaster'

    Foreign observers of Afghanistan tend to think of former President Hamid Karzai's government as a clan of corrupt thugs, led by a feckless, petulant whiner. Joshua Partlow's book tells the story and explores the question of how much the Karzais were responsible for the deterioration of U.S.-Afghan ties.

    Oct 15, 2016