With the American military withdrawal, the Taliban’s seizure of control, and a developing humanitarian crisis, the United States faces a question of what policy it should pursue toward the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. To inform U.S. policymakers, the authors of this Perspective identify the remaining American interests in Afghanistan — principally counterterrorism and humanitarian relief — and propose a framework to evaluate three different U.S. overall policy approaches: to engage with the Taliban, to isolate the regime, or to oppose the Taliban by seeking to remove them from power. The authors identify the conditions under which these policies may be most appropriate and how they would best serve U.S. interests. They conclude that engagement offers the only prospect of advancing American interests in the country. They caution, however, that isolation is the more usual U.S. response to an unwelcome change in regime. With its embassy closed and a comprehensive sanctions regime in place, this will become the default U.S. policy toward Afghanistan in the absence of contrary decisions.
This Perspective was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).
This publication is part of the RAND Corporation Perspective series. RAND Perspectives present expert insights on timely policy issues. All RAND Perspectives undergo peer review to ensure high standards for quality and objectivity.
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