March 21, 2022 | The Vandenberg Coalition

Vandenberg Coalition Afghanistan Working Group Report

March 21, 2022 | The Vandenberg Coalition

Vandenberg Coalition Afghanistan Working Group Report

Working Group Members
Amb. Kelley E. Currie, Richard Goldberg, Christopher Harnisch, Frederick W. Kagan, Kimberly Kagan, Paul Kapur, Col. Richard Outzen (U.S. Army, ret.), Joseph Riley, Amb. Nathan Sales, Vance Serchuk

Executive Summary

The Vandenberg Coalition Afghanistan Working Group convened a diverse group of national security professionals to develop policy recommendations for the Biden administration and Congress in the wake of the 2021 Afghanistan crisis. Members of the working group included former government officials, military veterans, and academics with substantive expertise in a range of areas including Afghanistan, China, Iran, India, Pakistan, Russia, counterterrorism, sanctions, humanitarian aid, and human rights. The group met from September 2021 to February 2022 to discuss the major consequences of the crisis for U.S. national security and to develop forward-looking proposals. In addition to offering several policy recommendations, the group’s work highlights points of failure in the 2021 U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan with the intention of ensuring that the deadly mistakes of this crisis never again occur.

Recommendations Overview

The Executive Summary is a delineation of recommendations proposed by the members of the Vandenberg Coalition’s Afghanistan Working Group. Additional details on these recommendations follow in the subsequent pages of this report. Recommendations are organized in five categories: Relations with the Taliban; Counterterrorism; Great Power Competition and Regional Dynamics; Evacuations; and Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid.

Relations with the Taliban

1. Deny the Taliban bilateral and international diplomatic recognition – be clear that the United States does not recognize the Taliban regime as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.

2. Maintain robust financial pressure on the Taliban regime.

NOTE: Some members argued for keeping domestic and international sanctions in place, maintaining strict limits on the use of funds held by the Federal Reserve, and monitoring Afghanistan’s banking sector for evidence of money laundering that could lead to a PATRIOT Act 311 finding. Other members argued that aggressive use of sanctions would be strategically and morally counterproductive, exacerbating the suffering of the Afghan people without destabilizing the Taliban. Further details are provided in the report.

3. Deny the Taliban access to or benefits from bilateral and multilateral assistance.

Counterterrorism

1. Diplomatically isolate the Taliban and maintain U.S. and international sanctions on the group until it takes proactive measures to combat all terrorists in the country.

2. Expand counterterrorism cooperation with countries in the region with the goal of securing access for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) collection and aerial strikes.

3. Harmonize U.S. humanitarian and counterterrorism objectives to avoid unintentionally bolstering the Taliban through the distribution of foreign assistance.

4. Limit engagement with Pakistan to the minimal extent necessary to retain access to its airspace to conduct drone strikes in Afghanistan.

5. Provide non-lethal aid to the National Resistance Front (NRF).

6. Monitor the flow of foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) into Afghanistan and take appropriate measures to stem those flows.

Great Power Competition and Regional Dynamics

1. Support alternatives to the Taliban by working with regional partners.

2. Engage Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan bilaterally and in conjunction with Turkey and Azerbaijan.

3. Avoid Pakistan as much as possible, working with it only when it is unavoidable, primarily for counterterrorism operations.

4. Bolster relations with India – a major regional player aligned with the United States in the IndoPacific that shares many U.S. interests in Afghanistan.

5. Maintain balancing against China as a guiding principle for overall U.S. engagement in the region, but do not try to counter all Chinese inroads in Afghanistan. Opposing China’s every move in Afghanistan could be a costly distraction from competition in the Indo-Pacific. Forge closer ties with India, and seize opportunities to split China from Pakistan on counterterrorism issues.

Evacuations

1. Establish a dedicated parole channel for at-risk Afghans to expedite the evacuation of those who assisted the United States and share our values.

2. Create a humanitarian corridor for aid delivery and safe passage for vulnerable civilians.

3. Reduce administrative barriers and improve cooperation and transparency with private groups.

Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid

1. Develop a comprehensive strategy to support the Afghan people and ameliorate the humanitarian crisis.

NOTE: Group members had differing views on certain details of the proposed strategy. Some members argued for robust efforts to address the liquidity crisis in Afghanistan and stabilize the Afghan currency; whereas others raised concerns that such efforts could indirectly subsidize the Taliban. Details of the opposing views are provided in the body of the report.

2. Exert U.S. leadership on the human rights situation inside Afghanistan, especially through engagement with Afghan civil society.

3. Work with allies on a robust effort to reshape the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) mandate.

4. Pursue a principled human rights-centered strategy throughout the U.S. government, in international organizations, and in cooperation with allies and partners.

Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, served as a National Security Council official, deputy chief of staff to former US Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and US Navy Reserve Intelligence Officer. Follow him on Twitter @rich_goldberg. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

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Issues:

Afghanistan India Military and Political Power Pakistan Sanctions and Illicit Finance The Long War U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy