The War in Afghanistan: Competing Assumptions

September 24, 2010 — Matthew Hoh and Dr. Michael O’Hanlon joined the Stimson Center in its latest chapter of the Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran briefing series in partnership with the U.S. Institute of Peace. Mr. Hoh is a former Marine Corps captain and State Department appointee who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In the fall of 2009 he resigned from his appointment in Afghanistan in protest of the U.S. strategy there, and currently is the director of the Afghanistan Study Group. Dr. O’Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and specializes in national security and defense policy. He is the co-author of Toughing it Out in Afghanistan (2010). Both came together to discuss and debate current and future U.S. policy and military engagement in Afghanistan.

Dr. O’Hanlon opened the discussion by assessing the current situation in Afghanistan. He is an open supporter of the Obama Administration’s current strategy in the country, including the controversial surge in troops. He followed up with reasons he felt we have to be hopeful, but did not exclude some of the major difficulties that U.S. and Afghanistan face. Dr. O’Hanlon concluded his remarks with an alternative strategy that he believes could offer more success should our current plan fail. This alternative would provide slight modifications to the current strategy, with emphasis on the quality of Afghan security forces involving more work with the Afghan military and police forces in the field. Dr. O’Hanlon highlighted the importance of training Afghan forces to eventually take on full responsibility in solving the country’s insurgency problem.


Mr. Hoh offered his own assessment, beginning first with a few comments about his contribution to the Afghanistan Study Group’s consensus document, “A New Way Forward: Rethinking U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan.” He clarified before commenting on the report that it is a consensus document, and that the views expressed in it are not restricted to his alone. The report concentrates on the amount of money and lives that are being invested in Afghanistan, and how they do not match the potential benefit for U.S. national security. Instead of pursuing a military victory, the focus should be on promoting “reconciliation among the warring parties, advance economic development, and encourage region-wide diplomatic engagement.” He continued with his experiences in Iraq, and explained why similar approaches in Afghanistan are inappropriate. His alternative strategy reflects these views, and he questions what our current strategy means for U.S. national security and interests.

Dr. O’Hanlon and Mr. Hoh then answered questions from the audience, ranging from the implications of a future Taliban/extremist sanctuary in Afghanistan should the U.S. fail, to whether or not Al-Qaeda is centralized enough to take advantage of a vulnerable Afghanistan in the first place. Members of the audience also asked questions concerning the vague measurements of success that have been discussed around the nation, and how U.S. troops are evaluating Afghan performance within this undefined framework. Concerns were also raised regarding the different partnerships that the U.S. has created in the ethnically diverse country as well. The Southern Pashtuns are severely under-represented, and fears for Afghanistan’s long-term stability stem from a possibly violent response to this.

Security for a New Century is a nonpartisan discussion group for Congress. We meet regularly with U.S. and international policy professionals to discuss the post-Cold War and post-9/11 security environment. All discussions are off-the-record. It is not an advocacy venue. For more information, please call Mark Yarnell at (202) 224-7560 or write to [email protected]

This event is part of the Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran briefing series in partnership with the U.S. Institute of Peace.




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