Report to Congress on Afghanistan and U.S. Policy

December 2, 2022 9:41 AM

The following is the Dec. 1, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Afghanistan: Background and U.S. Policy in Brief.

From the report

The aftershocks of Afghanistan’s watershed year of 2021 continue to reverberate within Afghanistan, throughout its region, and in the United States. In 2021, U.S. and international forces departed after nearly two decades of operations in Afghanistan; the internationally backed Afghan government and its military forces collapsed; and the Taliban, a Sunni Islamist extremist group that formerly ruled the country from 1996 to 2001, retook power. Afghans and Americans alike, including Members of Congress and other U.S. policymakers, continue to grapple with the reality of the Taliban’s renewed rule.

The Taliban government is dominated by former officials from the Taliban’s prior rule or longtime loyalists, indicating that the Taliban have prioritized internal cohesion over outreach to other segments of Afghan society or similar gestures advocated by the United States and other countries. Some signs of dissension in the group’s ranks along various lines have emerged, though the Taliban have a history of effectively managing internal disputes. Some Afghans have sought to advocate for their rights and express opposition to the Taliban in nonviolent demonstrations, which the Taliban have monitored and sometimes violently dispersed. Other anti-Taliban Afghans have taken up arms against the Taliban, claiming guerilla-style attacks against Taliban forces and calling for international assistance, and the regional Islamic State affiliate has conducted attacks against both Taliban forces and Afghan civilians.

Some Members of Congress have focused on a number of impacts of the Taliban’s renewed rule on U.S. interests:

  • Counterterrorism. The Taliban takeover has had different impacts on the Islamic State and Al Qaeda, historic Taliban adversaries and partners, respectively. With no U.S. military forces based in Afghanistan or neighboring states, the United States is pursuing an “over-the-horizon” counterterrorism approach.
  • Women and Girls. Taliban actions have been detrimental for the status of women and girls in Afghanistan, a longtime U.S. policy concern, with girls prohibited from attending school at the secondary level and women’s roles drastically curtailed.
  • Relocating U.S. Partners. Some Members of Congress have closely followed ongoing U.S. efforts to relocate remaining U.S. citizens, as well as the tens of thousands of Afghans who worked for U.S. efforts and seek to leave the country.

Some Members have also expressed concern about dire humanitarian conditions in Afghanistan. Since the Taliban takeover, Afghanistan has faced intersecting and overwhelming humanitarian and economic crises, a result of challenges both preexisting (such as natural disasters and Afghanistan’s weak economic base) and new (such as the cut-off of international development assistance, U.S. sanctions on the Taliban, and the U.S. hold on Afghan central bank assets). In response, the Biden Administration has provided over $1 billion in humanitarian assistance, issued general licenses authorizing various humanitarian and commercial transactions, and established a Switzerland-based “Afghan Fund” to disburse some of Afghanistan’s central bank assets to support the Afghan economy.

Congressional oversight of U.S. Afghanistan policy has featured numerous hearings, past and ongoing investigations, and the creation of the Afghanistan War Commission. Congress has also imposed a variety of reporting requirements to monitor dynamics in Afghanistan and their implications for U.S. policy. Going forward, Congress may consider further reporting requirements, resources, or investigative efforts related to various U.S. interests as it evaluates the Biden Administration’s budget request and defense authorization measures. Future reports from the congressionally created Afghanistan War Commission and other bodies may offer lessons for legislators

Congressional action is likely to be influenced, and likely constrained, by a lack of reliable information about events in Afghanistan and the historical legacy of U.S. conflict with the Taliban. Perhaps more challengingly, the Biden Administration and many in Congress seek to ameliorate humanitarian and economic conditions in Afghanistan, but without taking any action that boosts the Taliban’s position or that may be perceived as doing so. Pursuing these policies in tandem may prove complicated given the Taliban’s evident aversion to make compromises in response to international pressure and its apparent willingness to accept considerable humanitarian and economic suffering as the price of that uncompromising stance.

Download the document here.

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