The annual admitted student open house held Tuesday, April 5th, culminated in an evening reception and conversation with long-time USAID and State Department official Mark Ward who shared his thoughts on the current situation in Afghanistan.
Retiring from the Foreign Service with the rank of Career Minister in 2017, Mark spent decades helping deliver humanitarian assistance into communities wracked by conflict, such as Syria, or devastated by natural disasters, such as the Asian tsunami and Haiti earthquake.
More recently, he served two years in Kabul as the country director for International Medical Corps. He returned to the U.S. just before the Taliban take-over in August and was asked to serve as the State Department Lead helping process Afghan evacuees this winter at a military base in New Mexico. He visited Afghanistan for several weeks this spring at the request of a Seattle-area NGO, PARSA-Afghanistan, whose board he recently joined.
In his remarks, Mark voiced concern that an emphasis on physical security was preventing US diplomats and aid workers from gaining the kind of grounded understanding obtained by working in the field and talking with people outside the embassy walls. This isolation may have been a factor in the United States overestimating the strength of the Afghan government and its public support. He also expressed worry that too few people in government are willing to question assumptions and develop alternative assessments, with the result that those in leadership positions are not getting a fully developed slate of options to choose from. He made a strong pitch to those present to pursue careers in government service and help break down the physical and informational barriers that have become so prevalent today.