Lyla Kohistany, Senior Fellow, The Soufan Center

Senior Fellow

Lyla Kohistany

Dr. Lyla Kohistany is a Senior Fellow at The Soufan Center focusing on international security and stabilization, specifically the significance of continuing counterterrorism initiatives amidst great power competition and the pivotal role of women in shaping conflict, peace, and security. A cultural intelligence advisor, learning and development specialist, and inclusion strategist, she began her career in 2001 as a U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officer stationed in Japan. Born in Kabul and a refugee of the Soviet conflict, the attacks on 9/11 prompted her to transfer into the Intelligence community where she served as a counterterrorism analyst in Afghanistan working alongside U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Special Operations Forces (SOF) in 2005.

Upon separating from the military in 2007, Lyla has been an independent consultant working with military servicemembers, government personnel, executives, staff, students, and faculty across the globe on cross-cultural intelligence, organizational performance, and building inclusive organizations. She has designed and delivered both public and in-house training programs, supporting the learning and development of leaders across several Fortune 500 companies, numerous start-ups, and dozens of global military headquarters. Lyla is also the co-founder/director of two national nonprofits: PROMOTE and Honor the Promise.

Specific to the national security sector, she has consulted for the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, and U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) preparing thousands of U.S./NATO military, law enforcement, and civilian personnel for deployments across South and Central Asia. She deployed as an Advisor to the Combined Forces Special Operations Component Command (CFSOCC) in 2011 and served as the Senior Cultural Advisor at the NATO Special Operations Component Command-Afghanistan (NSOCC-A)/Special Operations Joint Task Force-Afghanistan (SOJTF-A) from 2013 to 2014. From 2014 until the U.S. and NATO concluded their mission in Afghanistan in August 2021, Lyla trained and advised each subsequent SOJTF-A Commanding General and their staffs on cross-cultural intelligence, terrorist networks, and the insurgencies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Her memberships include the Global Special Operations Forces (SOF) Foundation, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council, and U.S. Global Leadership Coalition’s Veterans in Smart Power. She was a 2017 fellow at Veterans in Global Leadership, a 2018 Scholar at the George W. Bush Presidential Center’s Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program, and a 2020-2022 Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Forward Defense Program. She also served as a gubernatorial appointee to the Virginia Board of Veterans Services from 2017 to 2021.

Currently, Lyla volunteers as an Ambassador for the Global War on Terror (GWOT) Memorial Foundation, is a member of the Advisory Council for both the Global SOF Foundation and AfghanEvac, a member of the Board of Directors for The Honor Foundation, and the Secretary of the Corioli Institute. She also serves on the USSOCOM SOF Week Advisory Team.

Lyla earned her M.A. from Georgetown University and her B.A. from Penn State University. She was awarded a Doctor of Education (EdD) in Arizona State University’s Leadership and Innovation program. Her research interests focus on storytelling and narrative in identity formation, multimodality in learning, and the evolving role of women as victims and facilitators in both terrorism and counterterrorism. She has spoken about the power of inclusive teams at numerous events and on various podcasts. She has been featured in media including CNN, NPR, PBS, and The Washington Post.