The fate of women’s rights in Afghanistan

The fate of women’s rights in Afghanistan

September 2020

This piece is part of 19A: The Brookings Gender Equality Series. In this essay series, Brookings scholars, public officials, and other subject-area experts examine the current state of gender equality 100 years after the 19th Amendment was adopted to the U.S. Constitution and propose recommendations to cull the prevalence of gender-based discrimination in the United States and around the world.

As the United States reduces its military presence in Afghanistan while the Taliban remain strong on the battlefield, and while peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban have commenced, a massive question mark hangs over the fate of Afghan women and their rights. The deal that the United States signed with the Taliban in Doha on February 29, 2020, leaves the future of Afghan women completely up to the outcomes of the intra-Taliban negotiations and battlefield developments. In exchange for the withdrawal of its forces by summer 2021, the United States only received assurances from the Taliban that the militants would not attack U.S. and its allies’ targets, conduct terrorist attacks against U.S. and allies’ assets, or allow the territory under Taliban control to be used for such terrorist attacks. How Afghanistan and its political order is redesigned is left fully up to the negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government and other Afghan politicians, powerbrokers, and—hopefully—representatives of Afghan civil society. But there are strong reasons to be believe that the fate of Afghan women, particularly urban Afghan women from middle- and upper-class families who benefited by far the most from the post-2001 order, will worsen. The United States’ leverage to preserve at least some of their rights and privileges is limited and diminishing. But it is hardly zero. And so the U.S. must exercise whatever leverage it has remaining to preserve the rights and protect the needs of Afghan women.

The expected negotiations and the state of the battlefield

Long gone are the days when the George W. Bush administration embraced women’s rights and empowerment of women as a justification for its war on the Taliban. Long gone are the days of the Barack Obama administration when then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the preconditions for U.S. negotiations with the Taliban included the Taliban’s renunciation of al-Qaida and their commitment to uphold the Afghan constitution and protect women’s rights. Less than ten years later, the renunciation of al-Qaida has yet to be explicitly and publicly made; the constitutional order and women’s rights are still subject to intra-Afghan negotiations and will be affected by the evolving balance of military power.

And, amidst COVID-19, violence on the battlefield has only intensified as the Taliban relentlessly and steadily pound Afghan forces.

Though originally expected for March, formal negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban finally started in September. The Afghan government has appointed a 21-member negotiating team that includes five Afghan women. Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, also established the High Council for National Reconciliation, a higher supervisory body to monitor and direct the negotiating team. Out of 46 appointed members only nine are women, while former warlords and older male powerbrokers dominate the list. Although the list continues to be contested between the factions of President Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah—his chief political rival and the head of the High Council—Afghan commentators interpreted it widely as marginalizing Afghan women and only giving them representation “in reserved seats,” and “reflecting a 2001 Afghanistan power structure” exclusively dominated by warlords and tribal elders.

But the Taliban’s negotiating team contains no women at all. Both Western observers and Afghan civil society representatives have repeatedly highlighted the absence of women’s representation in the Taliban’s governing structures, political offices, and the negotiating team— and raised the issue with the Taliban.1 But the Taliban have remained rigid and unresponsive to suggestions it include women in at least some of its governing and political bodies and particularly its negotiating team—a position that reflects the Taliban’s continual marginalization of women.

The women appointed to the two government bodies are urban, educated women, some of whom held government positions and others who are members of civil society. They are to represent all Afghan women. These women have consistently spoken out against Taliban abuses and strongly oppose any return to political arrangements that would significantly weaken the rights of Afghan women. Afghans expect them to oppose constitutional and social changes that would significantly reduce the formal rights that Afghan women obtained over the past two decades. However, at least some rural Afghan women do not feel connected to such elite urban women nor do they believe that urban elite women necessarily speak for them. The preferences of these rural women lean much more heavily toward a desire for peace even if it means sacrificing some formal women’s rights that they are currently unable to exercise anyway, as detailed below.2

Moreover, will these women representatives carry sufficient weight? The current Afghan government is committed to women’s rights, although it is able to enforce the rights for only a small segment of Afghan women and only sporadically—principally for urban women whom male relatives allow to access education and jobs. And, as indicated above, there are limits to how much the government is able to challenge Afghanistan’s power structures.

Nonetheless, the Afghan government, strongly displeased with the deal the United States signed with the Taliban and dreading the prospect of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, continually uses the issue of women’s rights as a tool to persuade the United States not to withdraw its forces even after the May 2021 deadline set by the Doha agreement. Meanwhile, the Afghan government continually seeks to delay and avoid negotiations with the Taliban, hoping that the United States will reverse itself and agree to either retain forces in Afghanistan for years to come or, ideally, deploy them to fight the Taliban.

But whether these hopes of the Afghan government materialize—and even if they do—whether they translate into actual empowerment of Afghan women is a huge question. Whether Afghan representatives on the negotiations team can force the Taliban not to weaken women’s rights and existing behavioral practices and socio-economic opportunities of middle and upper-class urban Afghan women will principally depend on what happens on the battlefield. It will also depend on how long negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban drag onand how badly weakened the Afghan security forces and the Afghan government become. Whether or not the Afghan political system implodes into factional violence and coups d’etat before that are also crucial factors. Moreover, informally, the Taliban continuously bypass the government’s negotiating team by engaging with Afghan powerbrokers—all men—as they seek to strike separate behind-the-scenes deals, including potentially a joint interim government. At least some Afghan powerbrokers are open to such explorations. If the Taliban manage to strike separate deals with key Afghan powerbrokers before the government manages to get any negotiations with the Taliban going, the representation of women’s voices and interests will be marginalized further.

In short, the issue of women’s rights in Afghanistan faces highly uncertain prospects, and most likely women’s rights will deteriorate.

How life has improved for Afghan women over the past two decades and how it has not

Many Afghan women, particularly those in urban areas, have much to lose from a bad intra-Afghan deal. During the 1990s, the Taliban not only brutally imposed social restrictions on women such as mandatory burqa coverings, but, more fundamentally and deleteriously, restricted their access to health care, education, and jobs. It prohibited women from appearing in public spaces without a male chaperon, de facto sentencing widows and their children to starvation. The Taliban regime destroyed Afghan institutions and the economy, which was already devastated by decades of fighting and the Soviet scorched-earth counterinsurgency strategy. The resulting immiseration critically affected women and children. And, with the exception of poppy cultivation and opium harvesting, the Taliban prohibited women from holding jobs, including working as doctors for other women.

The post-Taliban constitution in 2004 gave Afghan women all kinds of rights, and the post-Taliban political dispensation brought social and economic growth that significantly improved their socio-economic condition. From a collapsed health care system with essentially no medical services available to women during the Taliban years, the post-Taliban regime constructed 3,135 functional health facilities by 2018, giving 87 percent of Afghan people access to a medical facility within two hours distance—at least in theory, because intensifying Taliban, militia, and criminal violence has made travel on roads increasingly unsafe.3

In 2003, fewer than 10 percent of girls were enrolled in primary schools; by 2017, that number had grown to 33 percent4—not enough, but progress still—while female enrollment in secondary education grew from six percent in 2003 to 39 percent in 2017.5 Thus, 3.5 million Afghan girls were in school with 100,000 studying in universities.

Women’s life expectancy grew from 56 years in 2001 to 66 in 2017,6 and their mortality during childbirth declined from 1,100 per 100,000 live births in 2000 to 396 per 100,000 in 2015.7

By 2020, 21 percent of Afghan civil servants were women (compared with almost none during the Taliban years), 16 percent of them in senior management levels; and 27 percent of Afghan members of parliament were women.8

Instead of economic, social, and political empowerment, Afghan women in rural areas—where an estimated 76 percent of the country’s women live—experience the devastation of bloody and intensifying fighting between the Taliban and government forces and local militias.

Yet these gains for women have been distributed highly unequally, with the increases far greater for women in urban areas. For many rural women, particularly in Pashtun areas but also among other rural minority ethnic groups, actual life has not changed much from the Taliban era, formal legal empowerment notwithstanding. They are still fully dependent on men in their families for permission to access health care, attend school, and work. Many Afghan men remain deeply conservative. Typically, families allow their girls to have a primary or secondary education—usually up to puberty—and then will proceed with arranged marriages. Even if a young woman is granted permission to attend a university by her male guardian, her father or future husband may not permit her to work after graduation. Without any prodding from the Taliban, most Afghan women in rural areas are fully covered with the burqa.

 Instead of economic, social, and political empowerment, Afghan women in rural areas—where an estimated 76 percent of the country’s women live—experience the devastation of bloody and intensifying fighting between the Taliban and government forces and local militias. Loss of husbands, brothers, and fathers to the fighting generates not only psychological trauma for them, but also fundamentally jeopardizes their economic survival and ability to go about everyday life. Widows and their children are thus highly vulnerable to a panoply of debilitating disruptions due to the loss of family men.

 Not surprisingly, the position of Afghan women toward peace varies greatly. Educated urban women reject the possibility of another Taliban emirate. They dream of a peace deal in which the Taliban are a weak actor in the negotiations and is given some political and perhaps government representation, but not the ability to shape the rewrite of the Afghan constitution and the country’s basic political dispensation. Rather than yielding to the Taliban, some urban women may prefer for fighting to go on, particularly as urban areas are much less affected by the warfare than are rural areas, and their male relatives, particularly of elite families, rarely bear the battlefield fighting risks. For them, the continuation and augmentation of war has been far less costly than for many rural women.

By contrast, as interviews with Afghan women conducted by one of us in the fall of 2019 and the summer of 2020 showed, peace is an absolute priority for some rural women, even a peace deal very much on the Taliban terms.9 This finding was confirmed in a recent International Crisis Group report. The Taliban already frequently rule or influence the areas where they live anyway. While rejecting a 1990s-like lockdown of women in their homes that the Taliban imposed, many rural women point out that in that period the Taliban also reduced sexual predation and robberies that debilitated their lives.

But the issue of women’s rights is a highly contested and charged political debate among Afghan women themselves beyond the rural-urban and Taliban-non-Taliban divides. A recent study by UN Women and partners showed that only 15 percent of Afghan men think women should be allowed to work outside of their home after marriage, and two thirds of men complain Afghan women now have too many rights. Male Afghan political powerbrokers often resent quotas for women in public shuras (assemblies) and elections such as for parliament, where 27 percent of seats are reserved for women. Women representatives feel systematically marginalized, ignored, patronized, and harassed, with men trying to order them “back to the kitchen.”

The UN study also revealed that 80 percent of Afghan women experience domestic violence. Some 50 percent of women in Afghan prisons and 95 percent of such girls have been jailed for “moral crimes” such as having sex outside of marriage. Others have been prosecuted for killing their brutally abusive husbands, including in self-defense. Distressingly, not only the Taliban but important segments of Afghan society appear to be growing more conservative, embracing doctrinaire versions of sharia that call for reducing women’s rights and freedoms.

What the Taliban say about women’s rights now

How much Afghan women’s rights deteriorate or (highly unlikely) improve depends on whether Afghanistan’s current civil war significantly intensifies and how weak or strong a deal the Afghan government is able to negotiate with the Taliban. Currently, there is no realistic prospect of the Afghan government defeating the Taliban. There is also little reason to believe that even an open-ended American military commitment to Afghanistan, including a new significant increase in U.S. forces, can significantly weaken the Taliban, let alone defeat them. If a prolonged and bloody civil war can be avoided through negotiations, the Taliban will most likely become a significant actor in the Afghan government. It is conceivable that the Taliban could become the dominant and most powerful actor in a future Afghan government.

The Taliban already rule significant parts of the countryindeed much of the countryside—and determine, sometimes in negotiations with local communities, what local life is like, including what freedoms women have or do not have. Thus, the Taliban inevitably will shape in significant ways the rights and existence of Afghan women.

Distressingly, not only the Taliban but important segments of Afghan society appear to be growing more conservative, embracing doctrinaire versions of sharia that call for reducing women’s rights and freedoms.

Various Taliban and Taliban-linked interlocutors interviewed by one of this article’s authors in the fall of 2019 claim that they do not want a return to the 1990s, with its economic collapse, or want to adopt the very brutal treatment of women which then prevailed.10 Their firmly stated position is that the Taliban protect and will protect women’s rights under sharia—a rubric, however, that can cover a range of policies and behavior. Almost always, it means mandated codes of dress and behavior. However, some versions of sharia, such as in Saudi Arabia, can drastically subordinate a woman’s life to decisions of her male guardian. In other versions, such as in parts of Indonesia, the interpretations of sharia can be far more permissive and thus maintain women’s abilities to access education and, crucially, employment. Often, sharia systems compete with formal legal systems within a country, even as the latter can also be informed by sharia. In some countries, such as Pakistan and Somalia, sharia courts often protect women’s property rights far better than formal judiciary systems or informal traditional systems, but still subject them to many severe restrictions and even brutal physical punishments such as beatings and stoning to death for adultery and being raped. By stating that they will “protect” women’s rights under sharia, but otherwise refusing to specify how women’s rights and life in Afghanistan would change if they attain their preferences, the Taliban give themselves a wide berth of options. Very likely, however, the Taliban’s inclinations will be to weaken women’s rights, further tighten cultural restrictions on women, and shrink socio-economic opportunities for them, even if the Taliban in government did not formally embrace as brutal a system for women as in the 1990s.            

Some of the Taliban interlocutors suggested during the fall of 2019 interviews11 that in a future Afghanistan, with the Taliban in control or sharing power (as they imagine will be the outcome), women could still hold ministerial positions, though a woman could never be the head of state or government. Others pointed to Saudi Arabia as an example of a system they would apply to women’s rights and social order.12 The lack of specificity and the varied Taliban positions reflect two dynamics. First, many Taliban tell their interlocutors what they want to hear—giving different messages to Western diplomats, journalists, and researchers; Afghan powerbrokers or Afghan society in general; and their rank and file. Second, there may well be little agreement among members of Taliban leadership shuras, and between them and mid-level military commanders, as to what any kind of peace should look like regarding a variety of social and political arrangements, including the roles, freedoms, and restrictions on women. Thus, Taliban leaders and spokesmen prefer to leave crucial elements vague, hoping first that they will be able to negotiate power division in the country, ideally becoming the dominant government actor, and only then worry about the details of social and political rules.

On the ground today, Taliban rule varies significantly among local Taliban military commanders and shadow district governors and their views. In some places, it includes the same old brutalities, such as whipping women for sex outside of marriage, stoning them to death for certain offenses, and punishment for not wearing a burqa. Elsewhere, the Taliban are more permissive. As fieldwork by one of the authors shows, even in Afghanistan’s north where non-Pashtun ethnic groups dominate and in some cases adopt less restrictive social mores, such as in Badakhshan, the Taliban restrict music and soap operas, but tell the local population such restrictions are only temporary—until they come to power formally as the official, and not merely shadow, government. But a loosening of restrictions may not, in fact, arrive should formal Taliban rule emerge at the national level; rather, the opposite is likely. The Taliban may be trying simply to obfuscate their restrictive inclinations while strengthening their hold on local communities. Elsewhere yet, older males in some communities often approach the Taliban and demand from them that the Taliban enforce traditional social mores, including severe restrictions on women’s rights.

At the same time, the Taliban have moderated their behavior after defeating the uprisings against their rule that started in the city of Ghazni in 2012 and for two years spread across the country. The Taliban smashed the uprisings, keenly prioritizing a military pushback against them and often killing all males in villages involved in the anti-Taliban fight. But since crushing the uprisings, the Taliban have stopped shutting down primary schools in many areas, including in Ghazni and Helmand Provinces. They now allow, at least, pre-pubescent girls to attend school. Rather than shutting down the schools, they send representatives to ensure schools do not teach anything the Taliban disapprove of. Clearly, censorship of education is most problematic, but having some education—even if it is merely basic literacy and numeracy in addition to Koranic instruction—is preferable to no education at all. Moreover, Taliban representatives also make sure that teachers actually show up in classrooms instead of tending to other jobs, as they often do in government-controlled or militarily-contested areas. In many areas, the Taliban no longer prohibit government clinics, electricity delivery, and other government services—it taxes them instead. This also guarantees that resources are not stolen via corruption and theft and punishes clinic operators for not having adequate supplies of medicines.13

How the Taliban relate to women in an area is often negotiated with the community. And, like many other jihadi groups, the Taliban deliver swift and non-corrupt sharia justice that often guarantees inheritance-property rights to women—unlike in Afghanistan’s formal justice system that remains mired in endless delays, paralysis, and corruption. Indeed, for one of us who commanded U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, it was only here, in the administration of swift, un-corrupt justice, where the Taliban could compete with the Afghan government. The Taliban could not provide fresh water or electricity or any civil services, but the Taliban could provide near-instantaneous sharia-based justice that sometimes served the best interests of both Afghan women and men and ended disputes and violence.

In short, even with this moderation in behavior, it is very likely that the Taliban in power will seek to restrict the formal rights that Afghan women have today, worsening these women’s social, economic, and political conditions. The question is, how much and in what ways?

What the United States and the international community can do to promote women’s rights in Afghanistan

Even while the United States withdraws its forces from Afghanistan, it should maintain a strong policy focus on women’s rights in the country, just as it did during the period of the NATO International Security Assistance Force. Such a focus is not merely a humanitarian imperative. Women’s empowerment continues to serve U.S. primary interests in the country because women are vectors of both peace and economic progress in Afghanistan. The United States should seek to influence intra-Taliban negotiations, to preserve maximum freedom and human rights protection of Afghan women that Afghan society is prepared to accept by insisting to the Taliban and Afghan powerbrokers that women’s rights are crucial qualifications for U.S. and international aid. An exodus of Afghan women from the country or their lockup in family compounds will only augment the stagnation and violence dynamics in the country.

The United States should set minimal standards of women’s rights below which it would refuse to provide economic aid to an Afghan government (whether including or run by the Taliban). For example, the United States can insist that statutorily denying women access to health care and primary and secondary education, prohibiting women from appearing outside of a household without a male relative, or in a blanket manner disqualifying women from jobs would disqualify an Afghan government from U.S. aid. The United States should also make clear that even in the absence of statutory prohibitions, a systematic failure to uphold minimal rights would disqualify Afghanistan or a part of it from the majority of U.S. economic and humanitarian assistance. The United States should also insist that those who violate the basic rights of Afghan women as they are defined by the Afghan constitution, or as set by minimal international human right standards, such as by committing murder, lynching, and grievous domestic violence against women, are brought to justice, prosecuted, and imprisoned.

Even as it draws down its military presence, the United States—and its allies in Afghanistan—is not powerless. The U.S. retains other leverage with the Taliban—including maintaining economic aid to the country. For that reason as well, the Taliban are keenly aware they need to cater—at least to some extent—not only to the preferences of the Afghan population, but also to the United States. Taliban interlocutors consistently indicate that they do not want a loss of U.S. economic aid after a U.S. military withdrawal when, as they believe, the Taliban will be in power in some form. Maintaining the above-highlighted conditionality on economic aid that does not jeopardize basic humanitarian objectives, such as in the COVID-19 pandemic, but shapes the Taliban’s behavior for the better, will likely be a crucial and perhaps potent tool.

The United States should also facilitate the travel of some Taliban leaders to other countries, particularly Islamic countries where women enjoy significant freedoms, to expose the Taliban to how women’s rights can be consistent with sharia and what laws and governance systems would increase the chance that U.S. and western aid is preserved for an Afghan government of which the Taliban is part. Countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Egypt, and Turkey come to mind.

Importantly, the United States and the international community should preserve economic and political support for defenders of women’s rights in Afghanistan. That includes providing them with asylum visas if they become targets of violent retaliation—whether by the Taliban, government-associated powerbrokers, or male relatives. Many Afghan NGOs have seen a dramatic collapse of western funding over the past several years. Those drops should be reversed. Maintaining support for NGOs that focus on women in rural areas—whether by providing shelters where battered women can live, delivering medical aid, or teaching basic job skills—is crucial.

While the intra-Afghan peace process will grapple with matters such as levels of violence, detainee release, and local, regional, and national power sharing, such power restructuring will not necessarily get to the central issue of the future of half the Afghan population: the women of Afghanistan, who by Afghan adage “hold up half the sky.” Only a determined, long-term process of securing the rights and hopes of Afghan women and holding the Taliban and others in Afghanistan accountable for them will guarantee a future that allows the country to prosper and includes access to credible membership in the community of nations. Otherwise, Afghanistan will forfeit the gains achieved at such a high price by so many, and the women of Afghanistan will endure and labor again under the dark sky of brutal rule, a darkness enshrouding all of the country and casting a shadow of shame on the international community.


  1. Vanda Felbab-Brown’s interviews with Taliban-linked interlocutors, Western diplomats who negotiated with the Taliban, and Afghan politicians and civil society members who negotiated with the Taliban, Kabul, October 2019 and by phone, January 2020, February 2020, and July 2020.
  2. Vanda Felbab-Brown’s interviews with several rural Afghan women and Afghan representatives of Afghan women’s NGOs, Baddakhshan, Helmand, and Ghazni, October 2019.
  3. World Health Organization, WHO Afghanistan Country Office 2019 Report, February 2019, p. 23, http://www.emro.who.int/images/stories/afghanistan/WHO_at_a_Glance_2019_Feb.pdf?ua=1
  4. The World Bank, Afghanistan’s Developmental Gains: Progress and Challenges, Jan. 2020, p. 7, https://doi-org.brookings.idm.oclc.org/10.1596/33209
  5.  The World Bank, Afghanistan’s Developmental Gains: Progress and Challenges, Jan. 2020, p. 7, https://doi-org.brookings.idm.oclc.org/10.1596/33209
  6. The World Bank, Life Expectancy at Birth, Female (Years) – Afghanistan, accessed: March 17, 2020, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.DYN.LE00.FE.IN?end=2017&locations=AF&most_recent_value_desc=true&start=2001
  7. The World Bank, Progress in the Face of Insecurity: Improving Health Outcomes, March 6, 2018, p. 7, http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/330491520002103598/pdf/123809-WP-PUBLIC-MARCH6-530AM-14846-WB-Afghanistan-Policy-Brief-WEB.pdf
  8. The World Bank, Afghanistan’s Developmental Gains: Progress and Challenges, Jan. 2020, p. 12, https://doi-org.brookings.idm.oclc.org/10.1596/33209
  9. Vanda Felbab-Brown’s interviews with Afghan women in rural and urban areas of Afghanistan Taliban, in person or by phone, Herat, Kandahar, Helmand, Nangarhar, Badakhshan and Kabul, October and November 2019 and summer 2020.
  10. Vanda Felbab-Brown’s interviews with Taliban representatives, spokesmen, and members of the Taliban, in person or by phone, Badakhshan and Kabul, October and November 2019.
  11. Vanda Felbab-Brown conducted over 100 interviews with a wide set of Afghan interlocutors, including urban and rural women, government officials, military and intelligence officers, members of militias, powerbrokers, members of the religious clergy, and the Taliban to learn how nonstate armed actors govern in the parts of Afghanistan they control and what kind of vision of Afghanistan’s future the Taliban has, how it wants to govern if it comes to power at the national level, and what compromises the current Afghan government and powerbrokers are prepared to make to reach a peace deal with the Taliban.
  12.  Vanda Felbab-Brown’s interviews with Taliban representatives, spokesmen, and members of the Taliban, in person or by phone, Badakhshan and Kabul, October and November 2019.
  13. Vanda Felbab-Brown’s interviews with Afghan women, civil society representatives, journalists, and local government officials, Kabul, Badakhshan, and Herat, and by phone Helmand, Kandahar, and Nangarhar, October 2019. See also, Ashley Jackson, “Life under the Taliban Shadow Government,” Overseas Development Institute, June 2018, https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/resource-documents/12269.pdf.

This piece is part of 19A: The Brookings Gender Equality Series. Learn more about the series and read published work »

The research reported here was funded in part by the Minerva Research Initiative (OUSD(R&E)) and the Army Research Office/Army Research Laboratory via grant #W911-NF-17-1-0569 to George Mason University.  Any errors and opinions are not those of the Department of Defense and are attributable solely to the author(s).

About the Authors

John R. Allen

John R. Allen

President, The Brookings Institution

John R. Allen assumed the presidency of the Brookings Institution in November 2017, having most recently served as chair of security and strategy and a distinguished fellow in the Foreign Policy Program at Brookings. Allen is a retired U.S. Marine Corps four-star general and former commander of the NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and U.S. Forces in Afghanistan. During his tenure as ISAF commander, he recovered the 33,000 U.S. surge forces, moved the Afghan National Security Forces into the lead for combat operations, and pivoted NATO forces from being a conventional combat force into an advisory command.

Vanda Felbab-Brown

Vanda Felbab-Brown

Senior Fellow – Foreign Policy, Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence

Vanda Felbab-Brown is a senior fellow in the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence in the Foreign Policy program at Brookings. Felbab-Brown is an expert on international and internal conflicts and nontraditional security threats, including insurgency, organized crime, urban violence, and illicit economies. Her fieldwork and research have covered, among others, Afghanistan, South Asia, Burma, Indonesia, the Andean region, Mexico, Morocco, Somalia, and eastern Africa. Felbab-Brown is a senior advisor to the congressionally mandated Afghanistan Peace Process Study Group. She is the author of several books, including “Aspiration and Ambivalence: Strategies and Realities of Counterinsurgency and State-Building in Afghanistan” (Brookings Institution Press, 2013).