What role should the United States play in Afghanistan?
Second edition. January 2014.
2012 Franklin Buchanan Prize Winner.

U.S. military forces entered Afghanistan in late 2001, a few months after the September 11 terrorist attacks. The U.S. and its allies drove the Taliban from power, and curtailed al Qaeda’s efforts to plan and execute terrorist attacks. These gains, along with the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011, have come with large costs—including the death of more than two thousand U.S. soldiers.

Today, the Afghanistan War—one of the longest in U.S. history—is winding down, leaving open a host of questions. Without tens of thousands of U.S. combat troops on the ground, will Afghanistan witness a Taliban resurgence? Should some U.S. forces be kept in Afghanistan? Can the United States and Afghanistan implement a long-term security deal? What are the ripple effects of an American withdrawal for Afghanistan’s security, economic development, and democratic transition? The United States in Afghanistan grapples with these questions, and introduces students to the central debates and issues facing U.S. foreign policymakers.


Part I of the reading examines the history and culture of Afghanistan. Part II explores developments after World War II and the rise of al Qaeda. It also looks at the history of Pakistan’s relationship to Afghanistan. Part III explores U.S. involvement in Afghanistan and the region since 2001.


The Geography of Afghanistan

Students practice map–reading skills and consider how geography has affected Afghan society. Students identify the location of Afghanistan and its neighbors, explore major geographical features, and analyze ethnic distribution in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Looking at Afghanistan

Students analyze photographs of present-day Afghanistan to learn about Afghan life and society. Students consider the benefits and limitations of using photographs as a source for learning about Afghanistan.

Life Under the Taliban

Students consider how Afghans viewed the Taliban by examining excerpts from two memoirs written by people who lived in Afghanistan in the late 1990s.

The Cold War and the Soviet Invasion

Students examine the effects of the Cold War and the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan by analyzing letters between U.S. President Jimmy Carter and the Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev.

Role-Playing the Three Options

Working cooperatively, students develop and present three options for U.S. policy in Afghanistan to the Committee on Foreign Relations of the U.S. Senate.

The Costs of War (Online)

Students analyze the costs and benefits of the war in Afghanistan and consider the role of the United States in world affairs.

Voices From Afghanistan

Students use primary sources from the Afghan Women's Writing Project to understand the experience of living through the war in Afghanistan.

Supplemental Resources

Additional reference material for added context and support.


Barfield, Thomas. Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2010. 389 pages.

Bergen, Peter. Talibanistan: Negotiating the Borders Between Terror, Politics, and Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013). 528 pages.

Coll, Steve. Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (New York: Penguin Press, 2004). 697 pages.

Dupree, Louis. Afghanistan (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973). 760 pages.

Edwards, David B. Before Taliban: Genealogies of the Afghan Jihad (Los Angeles, California: University of California Press, 2002). 354 pages.

Gregorian, Vartan. The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan: Politics of Reform and Modernization, 1880-1946 (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1969). 586 pages.

Rashid, Ahmed. Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan, and Afghanistan (New York: Viking, 2012). 234 pages.

Riedel, Bruce. Pakistan, America, and the Future of global Jihad (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institute Press, 2010). 180 pages.

Contains a daily roundup of the latest developments in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India.
A rich, interactive website about the history and culture of Afghanistan.
A research project of the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University that quantifies the costs of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars.
A database of news reports on Afghanistan, including audio recordings and radio clips.
Declassified U.S. and Soviet documents on the Soviet experience in Afghanistan.
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