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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

In Brief: Next Steps in the War in Afghanistan? Issues for Congress

Catherine Dale
Specialist in International Security

On May 1, 2012, President Obama gave a speech from Bagram Air Field in which he laid out U.S. government approaches for “winding down” the war in Afghanistan.1 While a number of observers have challenged the logical plausibility of a unilateral decision to “wind down” a war, the Administration’s commitment to decreasing U.S. involvement in the war in Afghanistan is clear.

Many observers point to a coalescing vision of the way forward—shared by the governments of the United States, Afghanistan, and other international partners—that includes bringing the current campaign to a close by the end of 2014, and pursuing a political settlement among the parties in conflict, while extending U.S. and other international commitments to Afghanistan beyond 2014. In evaluating this emerging vision, some observers emphasize that the overall level of ambition has been lowered, while others stress that the timeline for international engagement has been extended. For the U.S. government, the broad strategic issues at stake in the war in Afghanistan include:

  • What fundamental national security interests does the United States have in Afghanistan and the region? 
  • What minimum conditions—political, economic, security—would need to pertain in Afghanistan in order for those U.S. interests to be protected? 
  • How appropriate are current and projected future U.S. approaches, until and after 2014, for helping Afghans establish those conditions? 
  • When and to what extent are Afghans likely to be able to sustain those conditions with relatively limited support from the international community? 
  • Ultimately, how important is this overall effort—given its likely timeline, risks, and costs—compared to other U.S. government priorities? 

At this apparent turning point in both strategic thinking and activity on the ground, this short report considers issues that may be of interest to Congress as it considers the strength and duration of further U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, to 2014 and beyond.2

Date of Report: December 6, 2012
Number of Pages: 18
Order Number: R42137
Price: $29.95

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