Summary of Rightsizing Expectations

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Rightsizing Expectations summary


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In this fresh look at Afghanistan, former US Marine Corps General John Allen and five experts from the Brookings Institution analyze the situation there. In a June 2017 roundtable discussion, the experts hew to the conventional wisdom: that the US invasion of Afghanistan was justified and that US involvement has borne fruit. They also acknowledge that US president Donald Trump has ushered in a new era of foreign policy and that any further investment of American lives is a tough sell.

In this summary, you will learn

  • How US involvement has improved life in Afghanistan since 2001 and
  • Why daunting challenges remain.

About the Authors

John R. Allen is a retired US Marine Corps general and former commander in Afghanistan. Vanda Felbab-Brown, Michael O’Hanlon and Bruce Riedel are senior fellows at Brookings. Tanvi Madan is a fellow at Brookings and director of The India Project. Bruce Jones is foreign policy vice president and director at Brookings.



US troops arrived in Afghanistan in 2001, just after the September 11, 2001, attacks, with a goal of preventing al-Qaida from mounting another assault on US soil. At the time, al-Qaida seemed a real threat, and fears of another “mega-attack” were high. Eight years later, the Obama administration concluded that the al-Qaida menace had moved into Pakistan, and then US president Barack Obama used drones to pick apart the al-Qaida stronghold in Pakistan. After the combination of those attacks and the death of Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida ceased to pose a threat to the United States. The US mission has shifted toward propping up a legitimate Afghan government, keeping the Afghan Taliban in check and preventing further terrorism. Both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations failed to provide compelling arguments for a continuing US presence in Afghanistan. While the US military’s combat mission concluded in 2014, its ongoing role remains akin to its long-term deployment in Korea.

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