Academic journal article Military Review

Development and COIN in Regional Command-East, 2004-2008

Academic journal article Military Review

Development and COIN in Regional Command-East, 2004-2008

Article excerpt


THE LARGE INFUSION of development funds into Regional Command-East during the years 2004 to 2008 clearly supported counterinsurgency (COIN) efforts at the tactical level. At a strategic level, the correlation between COIN and projects is less clear, but was probably positive in many instances. The option of spending heavily on development was an asymmetric advantage that the Taliban and other insurgent groups could not match. It also provided a degree of acceptance for an international presence among a traditional, at times suspicious, mostly Pashtun population. Many of these development programs, including the military's Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP), showed some degree of success. However, various structural problems during this time hindered progress--including the lack of Afghan government capacity, shortfalls in U.S. government (USG) interagency cooperation, the imbalance between civilian and military staff, the differing timelines between various players, and the inherent difficulty of rebuilding a very poor country in the middle of an insurgency that gained momentum during this period.

This paper will look at how reconstruction and development assistance contributed to the COIN campaign in Regional Command-East in Afghanistan during 2004 to 2008. Specifically, did small-, medium-, and large-scale projects carried out by USAID, through CERP, and to some extent the international community and the Afghan government, enable a COIN campaign based on three main pillars: security, governance, and economic development? How did the various organizations involved coordinate? How did the local Afghan population perceive these reconstruction and development efforts? Did these reconstruction and development projects reinforce and enable the security and governance pillars of the COIN strategy, while weakening the insurgency? What were the lessons learned?

Regional Command-East is the American-led military area along the border with Pakistan, from Pakitka Province in the west to Nuristan Province in the east, then north to the Hindu Kush Mountains. In 2004, only one brigade, supported by a logistical aviation hub at Bagram Air Base, covered the 13 provinces of Regional Command-East. By 2008, there were three brigades assigned to the area, and provincial reconstruction teams were present in all provinces (although one team covered both Kapisa and Parwan Provinces).

Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world; the UNDP's 2004 report on Human Development Index (HDI) noted that "Afghanistan's [2002] HDI value of 0.346 falls at the bottom of the list of low human development countries, just above Burundi, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Sierra Leone." (1) Life expectancy in 2002 was just over 44 years, and national literacy rates just above 28 percent (but only 14.1 percent for females), one of the lowest among developing countries. Adjusted per-capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was only $822. Particularly in the rural areas of RC-East, the general lack of basic services and the meager gains from subsistence farming could be shocking to officers from developed countries. Clearly, this very low baseline was a challenge for development workers and counterinsurgency efforts.

Macroeconomic Factors

During this period the Afghan GDP grew quickly (in part due to the amount of international aid coming in), but how much this growth filtered down to rural and border areas in RC-East is debatable. Although many Afghans along the border used Pakistani rupees in addition to Afghanis, the stable exchange rate of the Afghan currency was a positive factor, as were low inflation rates. Perhaps more important locally were the multiplier effects of cash from payroll and purchases for military bases, the benefits from the transit of NATO supplies (particularly through the Khyber Pass and into Nangarhar), the smuggling of goods brought duty-free into Afghanistan, then smuggled back into Pakistan, and remittances from overseas workers. …

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