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Afghanistan: cutting edge discussion on counter-insurgency and development feeds into US Senate report


By dxw

The US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations have just published their report on development aid in Afghanistan, taking up key points our meeting last year on the aid effectiveness.


Winning ‘hearts and minds’ in Afghanistan: assessing the effectiveness of development aid in COIN operations

Thursday 11 – Sunday 14 March 2010 (WP1022)

In 2010 we held a meeting to explore the evidence for the effectiveness of aid in promoting stabilisation and security objectives within Afghanistan.  The summary of findings at the meeting has subsequently fed into the US Senate report on foreign assistance to Afghanistan.

At our meeting, research was presented which questioned many of the assumptions underpinning US and NATO COIN (counter-insurgency) strategy. The Senate report footnoted the summary findings from Wilton Park in setting out these assumptions (pages 8-9): “Our stabilization strategy assumes that short-term aid promotes stability in counterinsurgency (COIN) operations and ‘‘wins hearts and minds’’ by improving security, enhancing the legitimacy and reach of the central government, and drawing support away from the Taliban. It presumes that the international community and the Afghan Government have shared objectives when it comes to promoting longer term development, good governance, and the rule of law.”

Afghanistan inbound choppers – (Image: US Army, photo, Spc. Mary L. Gonzalez)


The Senate report goes on to say that the 2010 meeting at “Wilton Park in the United Kingdom brought together leading experts on the role of development in counterinsurgency”, and quoted the meeting findings that  there is ‘‘a surprisingly weak evidence base for the effectiveness of aid in promoting stabilization and security objectives’’ in Afghanistan.

The recently released memoirs of Sherard Cowper-Coles, former UK Ambassador in Kabul and Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, also cited the conclusion from the ‘important conference’ at Wilton Park in March 2010 that development spending was secondary to the addressing of political grievances in stabilising insurgency-infected areas (page 174, Cables From Kabul).

US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Marc Grossman and US Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Rajiv Shah responded to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee report in a joint press briefing. They noted that the State Department and USAID were already in the process of implementing key recommendations from the report.  Many of the policy changes cited that the US Government is implementing were also in the summary findings from the Wilton Park meeting, such as strengthening accountability mechanisms to minimise the destabilising effects of corruption.


Further information

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

US Senate Report

Press Briefing: US Department of State

NY Times: Smart Power Setback