October 20, 2009

CNAS Policy Brief - Afghanistan 2011: Three Scenarios

By Andrew M. Exum

After eight years of conflict and an ongoing policy review by the Obama Administration, the future of Afghanistan remains uncertain. Yet, as the latest assessment in Washington takes place amidst a contested Afghan national election, conditions on the ground continue to deteriorate. The brief, authored by CNAS Fellow and U.S. Afghanistan policy expert Andrew Exum, is meant to serve as a guide for strategic Afghanistan policy planning by laying out the worst, most likely, and best-case scenario for what the country might look like in 24 months, and how U.S. policy might make each scenario more or less likely. Although all three scenarios involve risks, an Afghanistan at peace with itself and its neighbors remains a possibility.

In the “worst-case” and most unlikely scenario, Afghanistan returns to pre-9/11 conditions where insurgent groups again gain control of the nation, reestablish an Islamic Emirate, and grant refuge to transnational terror groups. This inevitably leads to civil war and furthers regional instability. In the “most-likely” scenario, the Obama Administration cautiously transitions to a coordinated counterterrorism mission where allied engagement is limited to training Afghan National Security Forces, employing precision airpower and conducting direct-action special operations. Given similar attempts to execute a small footprint-type mission in Afghanistan, the likelihood of failure is high and eventually leads to a protracted proxy war between the United States and Pakistan. In the third and “best-case” scenario, the United States and its allies agree to a fully resourced campaign to provide security for key population centers and continue to develop effective security forces. By committing to a foundation for peace in Afghanistan, the United States and its allies achieve its main policy objective of regional stability.

Authors

  • Andrew M. Exum

  • Commentary
    • Defense One
    • September 17, 2019
    The U.S. Military is Not, and Can Never Be, Afghanistan’s Police

    In 1829, the father of modern policing, Sir Robert Peel, established “Peel’s Principles” to describe the role of police at large. Almost 200 years later, policing has changed ...

    By COL Sarah Albrycht

  • Podcast
    • September 10, 2019
    Ending the war in Afghanistan

    Christopher D. Kolenda joins The World and Everything in It to discuss the latest developments in talks between the United States and the Taliban. Listen to the full conversa...

    By Christopher D. Kolenda

  • Podcast
    • August 30, 2019
    The Key Role Pakistan Is Playing In U.S.-Taliban Talks

    A bomb parked under the preacher's pulpit in a mosque likely had a high-profile target: a brother of the Taliban leader. It was seen by the Taliban as a warning to stop their ...

    By Stephen Tankel

  • Commentary
    • The Wall Street Journal
    • August 9, 2019
    The U.S. Abandoned Iraq. Don’t Repeat History in Afghanistan

    The announcement of a peace agreement between the U.S. and the Taliban is said to be imminent, after years of combat and months of negotiation. The U.S. will reportedly promis...

    By David H. Petraeus & Vance Serchuk

View All Reports View All Articles & Multimedia