Skip to content

Winning ‘Hearts & Minds’ in Afghanistan: assessing the effectiveness of development aid in COIN operations


By dxw

Discussion at Wilton Park explored critical issues surrounding the effectiveness of development in aid promoting security and stability in Afghanistan. The conference discussion and report are contributing to high-level policy discussions…..

Winning ‘Hearts and Minds’ in Afghanistan: assessing the effectiveness of development aid in coin operations

Thursday 11 – Sunday 14 March 2010 (WP1022)

Organised in partnership with the Feinstein International Center, Tufts University,with support from the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAid), the Asia Pacific Civil-Military Centre of Excellence, the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)


Development aid is becoming an increasingly important tool to ‘win hearts and minds’ and promote stability in counter-insurgency (COIN) operations. The main purpose of the conference was to examine the evidence base for the effectiveness of aid in promoting stabilisation and security objectives by bringing together leading academics, policymakers, military personnel and civilian practitioners. Among those taking part in the conference were Shahmahmood Miakhel, Afghanistan Country Director for the United States Institute of Peace and former Afghan Deputy Interior Minister; Mark Sedwill, NATO Senior Civilian Representative for Afghanistan; Nick Parker, ISAF Deputy Commander; Mark Lowcock, DFID Director General for Country Programmes; Andrew Wilder, Research Director for Policy Process at the Feinstein International Center, Tufts University; Sheelagh Stewart, Head of the UK Stabilisation Unit; David Kilcullen, Advisory Board Member, Center for a New American Security; Janine Davidson, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Plans; Jasmine Zérinini, French Foreign Ministry Deputy Director for South Asia and Director of the French Government Inter-Agency Afghanistan-Pakistan Group; and Eli Berman, Associate Professor and Research Director, International Security Studies, Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, University of California.

Presentations and round table discussion at the conference were further enriched through collaborative computer technology that provided an additional means for participants to share comments, questions, and information. Key points that emerged from this discussion included:

  • Current stabilisation strategies are based on entrenched and often questionable assumptions.
  • The implementation of coin doctrine has not adequately addressed political issues.
  • Effectively designed and delivered development aid does seem to have some stabilisation benefits at a tactical level, but not at a strategic level.
  • Less is often more – too much aid can be destabilising.
  • Aid seems to be losing rather than winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan.
  • Strengthening provincial and district governance systems and fostering effective and transparent Afghan leadership which connects to Kabul is key.
  • The conference discussions, conclusion, and recommendations have been examined at senior policy levels in the capitals of various contributing nations to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.  

The conference report has been posted on the website of the US Army/US Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center, where Center Director Colonel Dan Roper wrote with regard to the conference conclusions:

We intend to review these implications for potential near-term adjustments to COIN and Stability training and professional military education as well as longer-term efforts to revise Counterinsurgency doctrine (FM 3-24) and to develop Stability Ops ATTP to operationalize FM 3-07, Stability Operations.

Please see the full text of Colonel Roper’s comments on the conference.

The conference report has also been posted on leading counter-insurgency blogs Kings of War, with the comment that “The conference report … deserves wide-reading, it is full of good sense” and Small Wars Journal

Just ahead of the conference start, BBC journalist Lyse Doucet conducted interviews with a number of conference participants. The interviews start at approximately 28.40 minutes on the iplayer.

WPS10-01 photo
Mark Sedwill (left) NATO Senior Civilian Representative for Afghanistan; and Shamahmood Miakhel, Afghanistan Country Director for the United States Institute of Peace


WP1022 - photo 2
Andrew Wilder (left) Research Director, Feinstein International Center, Tufts University; and Mirwais Wardak, Deputy Director CPAU, Kabul


WP1022 photo 3
Tobias Ellwood MP and Mark Lowcock, DFID Director General for Country Programmes


WP1022 photo 4
Howard Mollett (left) Conflict Policy Advisor, CARE International UK; and Mike McNerney, Principal Director for Plans, Office of the Secretary of Defense (Policy), US Department of Defense


WP1022 photo 5
Jasmine Zérinini, Director, Inter-Agency Afghanistan-Pakistan Group, French Foreign Ministry; and David Katz, Deputy, Force Reintegration Cell, ISAF