The Choices Institute ended with a U.S. perspective on the war in Afghanistan. Jack Reed, a U.S. senator from Rhode Island and member of the Committee on Armed Services, spoke to the teachers about the situation on the ground in Afghanistan and the future U.S. strategy.
Reed's first visit to the country in 2002 left him with high hopes for the rebuilding operation. He was able to travel the country freely, and Hamid Karzai, current President of Afghanistan, appeared to be an effective leader. However, the invasion of Iraq caused a huge divergence of resources and attention, giving the Taliban an opportunity to regroup. In addition, the northern region of Pakistan served as a safe-haven for terrorists, out of the range of the U.S. military.
On top of all this, many of the structures the U.S.-led coalition had put in place began to show cracks. The attempts to establish a central government were misled; the U.S. quickly realized that Afghanistan has never had a central government (as noted by Benjamin Hopkins earlier at the conference), and that creating one that had meaningful control over the country as a whole would be far more difficult than expected. Furthermore, corruption was so wide-spread in the government that Reed referred to it as "like vice in Las Vegas". The various crimes committed by officials went un-investigated due to lack of political incentive. Finally, aid programs were uncoordinated, poorly implemented and payed little attention to the actual needs of Afghan citizens.
However, the U.S. hopes that the recent re-examination of its current program will lead to stability. First and foremost on the U.S. agenda is forming an ethnically-neutral security force. A recent change to the program is the addition of literacy training, helping soldiers to interpret information, commands, and dangers in the field. In addition to improving the security force, it is bringing literacy to a mostly illiterate population from within the country. The security force is also being re-tailored to focus more on delivering services than performing tactical strikes. This will expand the influence and strengthen the legitimacy of the central government, making the people of Afghanistan feel they are better off with this government than before. These changes will allow the U.S. to withdraw, leaving behind only a small base, a move that will also strengthen the legitimacy of the central government.
Reed expressed hope for the future of Afghanistan. The re-building efforts of the country have been misguided in the past, but recent changes and criticisms are forcing governments and organizations to reconsider their approach. This translates into visible change within the operations of Afghanistan, hopefully bringing peace to a country that has been in constant turbulence since 1979.