Report Proposes 'New Way Forward' for Afghan War

But other recommendations are original, such the U.S. fast-tracking a peace process that would decentralize power among Afghanistan's "principle parties."

The Afghan government already has begun a reconciliation and reintegration effort with anti-government insurgents willing to put down their arms, abide by the Afghan constitution, and renounce al Qaeda, but the group recommends the U.S. take a larger role in leading peace talks.

"There has to be much firmer efforts by the United States government at both internally to Afghanistan as well as externally to Afghanistan, to lead these efforts," said Hoh at a recent launch event for the report at Washington think-tank New America Foundation.

"We're the ones with leverage in the region," Hoh said. "We're the one with troops, with the money, with the clout. We should be the ones to tell the other nations in that region, 'It's in your best interests to have a negotiated settlement to only get 70 percent of what you want in Afghanistan as opposed to continuing this proxy war for another several decades.'"

New Afghanistan Study Group Urges Political Reconciliation

On domestic Afghan political matters, U.S. officials have tried to stay behind the scenes to avoid damaging President Hamid Karzai's legitimacy among Afghans. Also, counterinsurgency theory calls for partnering with a credible central government.

The group's recommendation that the U.S. take the lead in political reconciliation challenges the assumptions that it is possible to improve Karzai's credibility and legitimacy and that a credible and strong Karzai is necessary to Afghanistan's and America's national security interests, regardless of whether Afghans perceive him as corrupt.

Indeed, a U.S.-led political solution may be in the works -- some news outlets have reported U.S. talks with Taliban leadership over the past month -- but if underway, such talks have not been announced publicly and details are unclear.

Drawing Down Troops from Southern Afghanistan

Another original recommendation is drawing down U.S. troops from southern Afghanistan. Hoh and some members of the group believe the expansion of U.S. and NATO military operations in southern Afghanistan over the summer has caused Afghans in the area to take up arms. Thus, rather than clearing an area of insurgents, they argue that the presence of troops is creating insurgents and compelling them to fight.

Although a conditions-based July 2011 drawdown is part of the current strategy, top international military commander in Afghanistan Gen. David Petraeus could recommend to postponing the date or slowing the pace.

"This report is willing to ask the tough question: Could it be possible that our current military strategy is part of the problem?" asked Robert Pape, a panelist and director of the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism.

Pape said statistics on suicide attacks in southern Afghanistan showed that violence spiked after coalition forces moved in.

"This is not some global jihad floating around the world. This is local opposition to American and Western military presence of the Pashtun homeland," Pape said. "We are growing anti-American suicide terrorism with this ink-spot theory of how to fight counterinsurgency. ... This is producing more terrorists than it's killing."

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