Exit Strategy


The drawdown of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, announced by President Barack Obama on June 22, is fraught with uncertainty and risk. In a country where armed conflict has persisted for decades, the dangers of renewed civil war are everywhere evident. Military disengagement must be carefully calibrated and staged gradually. To work, it will require a series of political, security, and economic agreements in Afghanistan, continued regional cooperation against Al Qaeda, sustained support for locally based civilian development programs, and an interim alternative security force.

At particular risk in this transition is the progress Afghan women have made since 2001. While improving the status of women is not the reason U.S. forces intervened in Afghanistan, it has become an important concern as our military begins to withdraw. A Time magazine cover article (August 9, 2010) portrayed the shocking image of an Afghan woman whose nose had been cut off by her husband. The headline said the image represented “What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan.”

To search for an answer to such questions, my colleague Sarah Smiles Persinger and I wrote Afghan Women Speak. It is based on more than fifty interviews conducted last year in Kabul with policymakers, diplomats, military officers, and Afghan women, including parliamentarians, activists, health professionals...

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About the Author

David Cortright is the director of policy studies at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. He is the author or editor of numerous books, including Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas (Cambridge University Press).