The Imploding Afghan Peace Effort

By Anthony H. Cordesman

The current peace efforts in Afghanistan are uncertain at best. It is far from clear that the Afghan central government and the Taliban can ever reach a stable, workable peace agreement. The Afghan central government has critical military weaknesses and civil flaws, creating questions as to whether it can either lay the groundwork for some compromise with the Taliban or survive on its own. Moreover, it is unclear that the United States will continue to support the Afghan government if a peace settlement fails.

Afghanistan is sometimes referred to as the “graveyard of empires.” In practice, it has been the “graveyard of Afghans” – a nation where one outside power after another outside power has found it more costly to remain in Afghanistan than its presence is worth. The end result has sometimes been long periods of peace – and even the Afghan conquest of other states – but time after time the nation has divided, become a regional backwater, or succumbed to civil war.

In the modern era, Afghanistan has steadily fallen behind the rest of even other poor regional states – like Bangladesh – since its monarchy collapsed in a mix of internal power struggles in 1973. It has done so in spite of a massive Soviet effort during 1972 to 1989, and an even more massive U.S. effort since 2001. Russia – like so many of Afghanistan’s past conquerors – survived and has prospered from leaving. So can the United States share the same fate – regardless of the success or failure of its current efforts to leave as part of a negotiated peace deal?

This analysis draws on a wide range of reporting, including U.S. government, NATO, World Bank, CIA, and IMF, to address the data now available and to show the probability that the current peace agreement can bring a real peace, lasting security, and enduring stability. It presents a wide range of analysis, data, and graphics to address the key problems in creating a lasting peace and the many factors that can “implode” the current peace process.

It addresses the challenges the United States faces in reducing the cost of war and the new pressures the Coronavirus has put on U.S. spending that could affect both the peace process and U.S. willingness to remain in Afghanistan if the peace process falters or fails. It describes both the cuts the United States is already making in Afghan forces and the impact of phasing out all U.S. forces in time to meet the 14-month deadline set in the peace agreements.

The analysis then addresses the risk that the current peace effort might devolve and become an extension of war by other means. Here, both the Afghan central government and the Taliban pose serious problems. This is clear from the next three sections of the analysis, which address the critical problems in Afghan governance, in the development of Afghan national security forces, and in the Afghan economy – summarizing the key quantitative data in each area.

The assessment concludes with a brief analysis of whether the United States should withdraw from Afghanistan if the Afghan central government continues to be a failed state, and if the current peace agreement will break down because of its failures.

The pace of change in all of these areas is so rapid that this is a working document that will be steadily updated over time. Outside comments and suggestions are welcome and should be sent to Anthony H. Cordesman at

This report entitled, The Imploding Afghan Peace Effort, is available for download at

Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. He has served as a consultant on Afghanistan to the United States Department of Defense and the United States Department of State.