On December 16, the American Security Project held an on-the-record conversation entitled “What’s Next for Afghanistan.” The virtual event was moderated by ASP CEO, Patrick Costello, and featured remarks from Dr. Carter Malkasian, former special assistant for strategy to Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Joseph Dunford; Ambassador Douglas Lute, former U.S. Ambassador to NATO and former Senior Coordinator for Afghanistan and Pakistan; and Mary Beth Long, former assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs.
Given the significant investments of time, troops, and money the panelists first sought to answer the question of why we were unable to defeat an ill-equipped Taliban force. Dr. Malkasian provided an overview of the last years of the Afghan war and the mistakes that set the course for failure that culminated with this summer’s ignominious end to our presence in Afghanistan. He argued that the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) had been unable to stand on their own since at least 2014 and that the ANSF was plagued by corruption and fractured along geographic and tribal lines. The Taliban, on the other hand, are cohesive and able to tap into a key aspect of Afghan identify—fighting occupation. Ambassador Lute echoed Dr. Malkasian’ s assessment, adding that the failure of the ANSF was inevitable.
Panelists discussed the dire humanitarian situation in Afghanistan, citing warnings from the United Nations World Food Program and the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights. The country is on the brink of economic collapse and facing an avalanche of hunger and destitution. Ms Long also warned of the setbacks for Afghan women and girls, who have made great progress over the last two decades, under the Taliban’s repressive rule. Ms Long then discussed the complicated circumstances for American citizens and Afghans trying to get out of the country and how private groups, including a coalition of former government and military officials, have stepped in to assist.