Report to Congress on Afghanistan and U.S. Policy

March 1, 2023 9:35 AM

The following is the Feb. 28, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Afghanistan: Background and U.S. Policy in Brief.

From the report

In 2021, U.S. and international forces withdrew from Afghanistan after nearly two decades of operations, and the Taliban, a Sunni Islamist extremist group that formerly ruled the country from 1996 to 2001, retook power. The United States does not recognize the Taliban or any other entity as the government of Afghanistan and reports there are no U.S. diplomatic or military personnel in the country. The Taliban’s position appears secure, though its rule appears to have had negative effects for most Afghans, as well as a number of U.S. policy interests.

The Taliban government is dominated by former officials from the Taliban’s prior rule or longtime loyalists. 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 sometimes violently dispersed, but the Taliban do not appear to face effective political opposition. Other Afghans have taken up arms against the Taliban, claiming guerilla-style attacks against Taliban forces and calling for international assistance. The regional Islamic State affiliate has conducted attacks against Taliban forces, Afghan civilians, and international targets alike.

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 above the primary level and women’s roles drastically curtailed, including a December 2022 decision to ban women from working for non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
  • 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 and examines lessons learned in Afghanistan. Future reports from the congressionally created Afghanistan War Commission and other bodies may offer lessons for legislators.

Congressional action could be influenced or 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.

Get USNI News updates delivered to your inbox