President Obama has yet to convene his December review of the Afghan War strategy, but when he does, a group of thinkers hope he will consider what they propose as a 'Plan B' for what its director calls a "failing and counterproductive strategy in Afghanistan."
"Instead of toppling terrorists, America's Afghan war has become an ambitious and fruitless effort at 'nation-building.' We are mired in a civil war in Afghanistan and are struggling to establish an effective central government in a country that has long been fragmented and decentralized," the group writes in a new report called, "A New Way Forward: Rethinking U.S. Strategy in Afghanistan."
Members of the group, called the Afghanistan Study Group, include around 50 former government officials, prominent Afghanistan experts, scholars, journalists, activists and business professionals.
The group's director is Matthew Hoh, the former State Department official and Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan before resigning September 2009 over what he believed was a failing strategy.
While not all group participants endorsed the report or came to the same conclusions, they coalesced around the idea that the war in Afghanistan -- now the longest war in U.S. history -- needs an alternate strategy than the one being implemented now by Gen. David Petraeus.
That alternate strategy includes five main recommendations for the U.S.: 1) Downsize its military presence in southern Afghanistan; 2) Lead and fast-track a peace process that would decentralize power in Afghanistan; 3) Shift from a counterinsurgency to counterterrorism strategy; 4) Join an internationally-led effort to develop Afghanistan's economy; and 5) Engage Afghanistan's neighbors in fostering regional stability and neutrality in Afghan politics.
"Our current path promises to have limited impact on the civil war while taking more American lives and contributing to skyrocketing taxpayer debt," the report reads. It cites the cost of the war as nearly $100 billion per year.
Most of the recommendations have been already proposed.
For example, the shift from a counterinsurgency to a counterterrorism strategy echoes Vice President Joe Biden's recommendation last fall, during the administration's last major review.
Also, there have been multiple international conferences geared towards developing the Afghan economy, though investors have been hesitant to commit funds without political stability and security in the country.
The report also recommends that the United Nations engage the U.S. and Afghanistan's neighbors in a diplomatic effort to foster regional stability and guarantee their neutrality in Afghan politics, including India, Pakistan, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.
The White House outlined this idea as new policy in a March 2009 statement: "Together with the United Nations, the Administration will forge a new Contact Group for Afghanistan and Pakistan that brings together all who should have a stake in the security of the region – our NATO allies and other partners, the Central Asian states, Gulf nations, Iran, Russia, India and China. All have a stake in the promise of lasting peace and security and development in the region."
An informal coalition of those states under the aegis of the United Nations did exist for a few years prior to 9/11 towards those ends, call the Six Plus Two Group on Afghanistan. However, there has not been any renewed effort since then.