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Afghanistan Study Group and Atlantic Council of the U.S. Reports Propose Crucial Recommendations for Success in Afghanistan

Reports commissioned by the Afghanistan Study Group and the Atlantic Council of the United States released on January 30 expressed concerns about the current state of affairs in Afghanistan and offered recommendations for the way forward. The following day, this timely re-evaluation of U.S. policy in Afghanistan was the subject of a comprehensive hearing before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

The Afghanistan Study Group (ASG) Report, commissioned under the Center for the Study of the Presidency, argued that Afghanistan will require a sustained, multi-year commitment to make Afghanistan’s reconstruction and continued stability a “higher U.S. foreign policy priority.”  Stressing the importance of decoupling conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq in the U.S. legislative process and Executive branch, the ASG report faulted the United States and the international community for having tried to, “win the struggle in Afghanistan with too few military forces, insufficient economic aid, and without a clear and consistent comprehensive strategy.” The ASG report cited a lack of coordination among international actors in Afghanistan and recommended unifying security forces under a single NATO command, as well as the creation of a high-level International Coordinator. This official will help the Afghan government manage and coordinate PRTs, economic development efforts, security issues, assistance programs, and conduct dialogue with neighboring countries. The ASG report also emphasized the threat posed to Afghan and international security forces posed by Taliban forces operating freely in the Pakistani tribal regions. Other recommendations included the creation of a special U.S. envoy to Afghanistan, the development of a coordinated strategy in support of President Karzai’s national reconciliation efforts, and an acceleration and increase of international investment in development.

The Atlantic Council of the United States’ report “Saving Afghanistan: An Appeal and Plan for Urgent Action,” addressed many similar issues discussed by the ASG. The report categorized Afghanistan as a "dangerously neglected conflict" in need of more U.S. and NATO troops. The report emphasized the connection between Afghanistan’s stability and global security. “Not just the future of the Afghan people is at stake,” it stated. “If Afghanistan fails, the possible strategic consequences will worsen regional instability, do great harm to the fight against Jihadist and religious extremism, and put in grave jeopardy nato’s future as a credible, cohesive and relevant military alliance.”

The Council recognized that “…the future of Afghanistan will be determined by progress or failure in the civil sector,” and called for an immediate reassessment of current security and reconstruction efforts. Upon completion, this assessment will aid in the creation of a “comprehensive campaign plan” to ensure unity of effort and enhanced coordination of the international community. Similar to the ASG’s recommendation for an International Coordinator, the Council advised the appointment of a High Commissioner by the U.N. This Commissioner, along with the Afghan government and its international partners, will work to create regional strategic resolutions as “only a regional solution can bring peace, security and some measure of prosperity to Afghanistan.”

Both reports recommended the creation of a sequence for counter-narcotic initiatives to counter the growing opium threat. They cited support for the development of Afghanistan’s judicial system and increased incentives to farmers to substitute poppy cultivation with alternative crops as integral to winning Afghanistan’s ongoing war on drugs. 

During the January 31 Senate hearing Republicans and Democrats posed poignant questions to former NATO commander retired Marine Gen. James Jones (representing the Atlantic Council of the United States), former undersecretary of State for political affairs Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering (representing the ASG report) and Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Richard Boucher.

Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, the senior Republican on the panel, expressed concern about what he saw as a lack of both a clear strategy and a policy focus. Without a clear plan for Afghanistan, he said, “the situation is going to be the victim of the politics of this country and maybe others.”

Assistant Secretary Boucher disputed the reports' findings, explaining that the current strategy to improve government services at the local and provincial level was working. He categorized an increase in violence as the Taliban's response to its failure to win or hold territory in conventional military clashes. In addition, Assistant Secretary Boucher provided the committee with statistics and accounts of progress in counterterrorism, economic growth, opium eradication, education and governmental reform. “Nobody can tell me we’re not going in a positive direction,” he said.

Afghanistan Study Group Report: Revitalizing our Efforts, Rethinking Our Strategies

Atlantic Council Report: Saving Afghanistan:An Appeal and Plan for Urgent Action

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