Small Wars Journal

Can Development Win a Counterinsurgency?

Can Development Win a Counterinsurgency? By Maura O'Connor, Slate. BLUF: "When people hear about the U.S. military doing development work in Afghanistan, they think about "winning hearts and minds" through humanitarian aid or building schools. The idea is that if Americans do nice things for Afghans, they will be so grateful they will begin to support the counterinsurgency. But these days, heart and minds is a phrase that will get you nothing but a lot of sighs from members of the military."


Will (not verified)

Fri, 06/10/2011 - 2:22pm


Sorry for the delayed response.

'I love the discussions that dance on the head of a pin about development. No one is arguing that development is bad.

This article does not argue about development on the head of a pin. It does exactly the opposite, in the process making clear that development can be bad. These problems that NATO and the US are facing in Afghanistan related to development have been known amongst the development community for years before Afghanistan. The popular story with development is that it is all good, but that is simply not the case. Gen. Petraeus has popularized the phrase 'money is ammunition, leaving little room for debate in the process. The development debate needs to open up, not shut down when new terminology comes along. As I outlined in an earlier post, there is a difference between doing development and encouraging economic participation, although the difference may be subtle, but it is the subtlety that matters.

In terms of examples of unbranded development, I personally cant think of any beyond what I have said. However, just because they have not been tried before does not mean they wont work. Additionally, if projects are carried out without screaming and shouting about them, presumably no one will notice, particularly journalists when there is so much else going on.

COIN is dressed up by prominent skeptics and advocates as being all about the people, being people-centric, a horrendous phrase that both advocates and skeptics use to beat each other over the head with. The debate does not have to be like that. Doctrine has become an easy target when the real problems are too diverse and complex to be easily grappled with. I believe all NATO forces have a caveat at the beginning of each doctrinal publication stating to the effect that 'it is authoritive but requires judgment in application.


To date I have seen no rational justification by those who claim that development must go hand in hand with with other COIN efforts. To the contrary I have seen development fail, and heard stories by countless others on why it failed to help defeat the insurgency. Those who promote it frequently do it to push a personal agenda (it is their job), others promote it because they accept our COIN on blind faith and fail to question its efficacy.

I am looking forward to the new national security team coming on board. At least it presents an opportunity to "honestly" and self-critically review what we have been doing, and how we should go forward. It is border line treason with our current economic crisis to throw money away (money that isn't producing a return or the desired effect), or worse yet keep investing in a way that helps sustain those we are fighting.

While it may sound intellectual to believe in the correlation between development and COIN, we fail to apply any intellectual rigor to our efforts when implementing development efforts.

Lets call it what it really is, it is a humantarian effort, which in itself can be good for the people it aims to help if done well by professionals (not the military), but as is often the case development efforts further hinder real development by establishing a welfare system (as Grant stated), and worse by reinforcing corrupt officials. There is none more blind than those who refuse to see.

G Martin

Sun, 06/05/2011 - 5:21pm

I would argue that there is another, perhaps more important, question: even if development would have a positive effect on instability/insurgency- is there any proof that we have the capability to do "development"?

When a government bureaucrat says "Development", in my mind, he/she means Western-centric, bureaucratic and centralized efforts at job growth, infrastructure establishment, and investment. Every time I look at the details I am reminded of the concept of "welfare". No matter how one attempts "development"- in the end it seems to me to be based on invalid assumptions about how wealth is created. It is the same reason most pampered/undisciplined kids end up losers, most (all?) 3rd World charity programs make little to no long-term progress, and why American inner-city reforms have so little success.

The only jobs that are "created" are those that a government creates- and most of those are worthless. The only way for employment to increase in a sustainable manner (as opposed to someone/thing "creating jobs" or attempting to artificially "jumpstart" the economy- a big difference IMU) is to ensure the system is conducive to investment- because no business is going to hire more people unless they are going to sell more or be more productive by doing so. To do THAT in our own country is very complex, requires an already-established system and infrastructure, and implies something long-term. For us to do THAT in another country- much less a 3rd World country (no matter how we do it)- is asking the impossible.

So, even if we were doing development "right", I don't think the nature of it would support COIN- the opposite would be true: COIN would, over time, support development. Those who demand that they have to go hand-in-hand, IMO, don't understand the nature of " true development" (i.e.- "wealth creation").

Anonymous (not verified)

Sun, 06/05/2011 - 2:23pm

I would add that few comments (if any) have really addressed how development (as part of the whole approach) can help defeat an insurgency, if development isn't the underlying issue? If the insurgent's goal is to further undermine the government's legitimacy (not sure not much is required to do that in Afghanistan), then economic targets are viable targets, so are just constructing targets for the insurgents to attack to further demonstrate how ineffective the government and ISAF are? If the goal is to defeat the insurgency then every effort needs to be made to defeat it, and then implement wise development decisions based on best practices (which have been identified, but are not widely practiced). This whole debate seems flawed to me in many ways. Development from the U.S. perspective shows our good will, it helps people that need help (in line with our values), but it does not normally contribute to defeating insurgencies when foreign powers are doing it. I think the comment about India using development to defeat the Naxolites is appropriate, since one of the underlying drivers of that conflict is clearly jobs and economic opportunity. It wouldn't work if the U.S. went into India and did the development. This is a needed discussion, and one that needs to continue. We all need to move beyond our stated positions and really exam what works and why.

Madhu (not verified)

Sun, 06/05/2011 - 12:04pm

Good article. Interesting thread. Salient points, all.

As <strong>Robert C. Jones</strong> has reminded us many times, the nature of the conflict and its drivers matters most. We have a quasi-colonial enterprise (or "proxy" army and paramilitary) generating enterprise going on in Afghanistan.

If the Indians choose some mid scale economic development plan in areas targeted by Naxals-Maoists, then it makes some sense. It is a true counterinsurgency because it is their own country and economic conditions is one driver of that conflict.

In Afghanistan, given our weird quasi-colonial set up (we get all the blame and bills, certain members of the Afghan government do what it wants with our money) we can't effectively develop the national - or even large city - economy in such a short time. And richer countries don't necessarily mean countries that act in ways amenable to American security interests.

Small time projects meant to win some level of trust from locals for immediate short term objectives is completely different from large scale aid projects.

But I guess these are obvious points, it is just that they continue to be conflated in some popular literature, it seems to me :)

Actually, our entire policy apparatus in DC seems to have a problem distinguishing such things. We think we can re-engineer the world with just the right mix of carrot and stick. It might work in very targeted situations with a lot of effort, but it fails a lot of the time, too.


Apologies for coming into this debate late "The article argues that 'development is not a monolithic entity; instead there are spectrums of activities that can fall under the heading.."

I love the discussions that dance on the head of a pin about development. No one is arguing that development is bad.

Coming up with a new phrase is just what we dont need because it does not change anything on the ground. The guys runnning the PRT know about local economics. They also come to realise that no matter how much money your throw at some people they still dont like you - even though they just keep smiling and taking the money.

Think of walking into a bar in remote Northern Territory or Western Australian. (Im sure there are similar places in the US)

If you are not a local the darts would stop in mid-air. Sure you could buy beer all day but it doesnt mean they will like you and certainly doesnt mean they will be happy if you move into the neighbourhood with your decafe, skinny soy latte and modernising ideals.

"In areas where there is likely to be a significant backlash against 'development and its associated activities, efforts could be made to encourage 'economic participation, through secretive and silent activities that would not appear to be tainted by a foreign presence. Kilcullens example of subsidised-at-source generators is a good example of this."

What examples of activities in Afghanistan can you name that have not been tainted by foreign presence? Im sincere when I ask this because there may well be good examples. However, the locals know exactly where the money is coming from - because they know where the buck stops.

So if I got a local to buy the beers in the remote Western Australian Pub does that mean the locals would like the Federal Government's policies more?

At the same time Kilcullen's version of COIN does not cover circumstances found in todays theatre, namely a corrupt government lacking legitimacy and competence, as well as insurgents enjoying external support and sanctuary in Pakistan and protecting people who dont wont to be protected.


I think the article was well written, but the question of whether development can defeat insurgencies can't be answered unless it is put into a particular context. Generalizations are the result of lazy thinking. In general development will not allow "foreign troops" to defeat an insurgency. All the comments about warfare being political, so development is essential is also the result of lazy thinking. The various Afghan resistance groups are not fighting for jobs/development, the real underlying political issues are they don't want to be ruled by Karsai, and they don't want foreign occupation troops in their country. How will development address those issues?

The underlying political issues must be addressed, but that means the real issues must be addressed. We can't simply hope the underlying political issue is lack of development. That is what we want it to be, so we can throw money at the problem in an attempt to solve it. It is the American way.

We need to ask more questions in the context of a particular conflict. What are the actual underlying political factors driving the conflict? Will development address those issues? How? Who will the development benefit (See Mike in Hilo's comments above)? How does that contribute to defeating the insurgency?

As stated above in several posts, our development efforts in many cases have simply made the situation worse, and a good portion of the funding for it goes tends to finance the actual insurgency. This doesn't begin to address how it distorts the economy and creates a dependence on a wartime economic system. Admittedly some development professionals know how to implement sustainable development in a cost effective manner (as addressed in the article), but we still need to ask and answer the right questions. It would seem more logical on the surface (again each situation is different) to use development in the consolidation phase after the insurgents are defeated (not just cleared).

For the U.S. people reading this, I would ask you to consider this. We have high unemployment now, and lets assume some yahoo managed to start a minor insurgency in the U.S., and however unlikely assume foreign troops intervened on our soil to help counter the insurgency. Regardless of whether or not they were providing jobs and improving our infrastructure, I suspect most of would rather be unemployed and we would violently oppose their presence. Furthermore, if the Brits implemented development programs during our Revolution, it wouldn't have changed anything, because lack of development was not the underlying political issue. We are too quick to default to simple answers.

In some cases, skillfully applied, development may contribute to the defeat of an insurgency, but in many others it will contribute to sustaining the insurgency. There is no simple answer to the question in the title, it depends on many factors.


Sat, 06/04/2011 - 2:03pm

Interesting comparison. From a cultural perspective I think you are spot on. We are trying to do exactly the same thing in Afghanistan in regards to attempting to mold the culture of the population into something more like us arguably for similar reasons. The misreading of the culture and the desire to fix their backwards ways are the same.

From a political perspective the situations are quite different. Afghanistan is not our territory. Any right we might have claimed under right of conquest would never be recognized today. The "state" of Afghanistan existed before we arrive there in an internationally recognized form. From that perspective the comparison is strained.

Finally, from an economic perspective the situations are completely different. America was, at that time, a prospering nation and even though they only shared that prosperity grudgingly they were committed to following through on the gentrification of the American Indians. In addition, much of the Indians land has economic potential (which is why we kept taking it) and was tied into a growing national economy (not isolated by a number of mountain ranges). To try to build a western system that is totally unsustainable without continued outside aid is sheer folly.

Bob's World

Sat, 06/04/2011 - 2:00pm

Reservation Indians vs Wild Indians?

Much of our "COIN" strategy parallels our approach the Indian "problem" as we settled the west. Paticularly the Souix Indians. We pick an overall leader (though no such thing existe"d in the culture) in Red Cloud. Then give them trinkets, cattle, farming implements, clothing and religion. We then confine them to certain land. Grow crops, eat government beef, and don't complain. Or, in the alternative, ride with Crazy Horse, hunt buffaloe, resist the invading/occupation force, and retain your own culture.

I, for one, vote to ride with Crazy Horse. I also understand why Afghan men join the resistance over taking "work for pay" odd jobs cleaning irrigation ditches in Afghanistan, living on the "reservation" and eat government beef.

To quote General John Stark on July 31, 1809, who unable to attend a Revolutionary war reunion sent in his toast via letter. It later became the official motto of his home state of New Hampshire:

"Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils."

It is odd, that we who respect this thinking in ourselves, find it so damn irritating when held equally strongly by others...

Mike in Hilo

Sat, 06/04/2011 - 1:49pm

I appreciate your comment.
Re: On effectiveness of kinetic activity cum depopulation, I agree completely. My point would be: Just as those "won" the war on the ground for the allies by 1970, reconstitution of the enemy base areas pari passu with unilateral US withdrawal (as ARVN was unable to maintain the pressure on those areas)turned the momentum in favor of the enemy, serving as their oil spots to influence the surrounding populated areas, with PAVN units operating from these areas enabling the existing VCI (by then often relatives of VC combatants)to operate. On development, my point is that in such areas, the degree of prosperity, while it may have won "hearts," was not particularly relevant in determining behavior. This was my observation in MR-III-not the Delta as such, but I believe many similarities obtain.


Bill C. (not verified)

Sat, 06/04/2011 - 1:07pm

Maybe we should look at this in a somewhat different way.

Should we expect that the American Indians of old -- and the Afghan population of today -- would be both (1) willing and (2) able to trade their governing and societal norms for "development?"

This, it would appear, is clearly the price of "development" in this counterinsurgency context.

Thus, not "development" with no strings attached but, instead, "development" as a means of achieving what the foreigner's desire most: state and societal change.

Or might we expect that such populations, in circumstances like these, might prefer to retain their present way of life instead?

Certainly, either population might wish to consider a governing and societal change -- and "development" -- someday, and in a context other than that which is presently being presented to them (foreign invasion/war).

Otherwise, one might suggest these populations might see "development" as a stalking horse -- a threat -- offered by foreigners to help achieve the foreigner's primary designs and interests (state and societal transformation and incorporation into and utilization by the foreigner's system -- in this regard see GEN Petraeus endorsement of the "Modern Silk Road" concept for Afghanistan).

If such perceptions prevail (stalking horse/threat re: present way of life), then "development" initiatives might help one lose a counterinsurgency.

Bob's World

Sat, 06/04/2011 - 12:46pm

There was neither functional infrastructure nor insurgency in Helmand and Kandahar under the Taliban. For about two years following our assisting the Northern Alliance to supplant the Taliban and drive that government into exile in Pakistan there was still little insurgency.

Only once we helped put in place new forms of government foreign and untrusted by this culture; and elevated to "legitimate" presidency the man the West wanted through an election globally infamous as corrupt; and facilitated the design and constitutional design of a form a government that vested all patronage from the District level up in that one man, and ensured that no legal means of political challenge were open to those who dared to disagree with this Western shaped, funded and protected system, did insurgency begin to build.

Revolutionary roots deep in the exiled Taliban government and other groups excluded from economic or political power by the Northern Alliance; and then growing Resistance among the Afghan people as the Coalition responded to the growing insurgency with a growing occupational presence in kind.

At no time did a lack of "development" lead these people to become insurgents to illegally challenge the Northern Alliance government and the Coalition occupation. Why, in any form of logical analysis, would one assume that development would lead these same people to stop being insurgents?

This is the same confused logic the Saudi and Bahrain governments are applying as they offer their respective populaces financial bribes (and increased security force oppression) to keep them in line.

It won't bring stability to Afghanistan, as it avoids the real issues of the matter. Similarly, it will not prevent the Arabian Peninsula from ultimately erupting in open insurgency as well. Unless governments are willing to listen, evolve and grant greater equity to their entire populaces they will ultimately fall to illegal popular challenge.

These governments have bought the tired cliché' that they must "control the populace." No, insurgency happens when the populace has lost control of the government.

The US wants to control these governments and their populaces; the national governments want to control these populaces and manipulate the US support; the people only want a modicum of respect, justice, and a government that they recognize as their own and that they have legal venues to shape it according to their cultures and expectations.

Development? It is like handing a child you have just spanked for something they did not do and sent to their room without dinner a balloon. Good luck with that.

Just something to consider,


What do we mean by "development?"

Interesting how the underlying assumption behind the metaphor "development" (which I would argue stems from the biology sciences) is loaded with value assumptions associated with positivism.

Aguste Comte's theory was that societies go through "stages" (much like biological systems).

His three "social" stages were:

(1) theological (lowest--where humans attribute all meaning to religious explanations);
(2) metaphysical (using philosphical explanations that are more or less existential explanations of "being"); and,
(3) positive (highest -- where it is about scientific reasoning, such as hypothesis testing, and the resulting objective knowledge which is free of human bias).

He discussed sub-stages as well (e.g., animism, polytheism and monotheism were sub-stages to stage 1).

Well, isn't the logic of "development" we are speaking to here based in the same metaphor?

If "yes," the next question is, "what are the weaknesses of the metaphor that do not apply to social systems as they would to biological systems?" The answer may lead to some invalidation of the metaphor that we seem to use without critical reasoning -- what is the "logic" behind nation-building.

This is the crux of the critical reasoning we should explore -- the efficacy of "development" as a frame of action. Other frames (a.k.a. paradigms) may lead us to design other ways of approaching operational activities.

I can think of a few:

--Use of postmodern deconstruction (e.g., Derrida)
--Use of complexity science (e.g., Holland)
--Use of the science of metaphors (Ricoeur)
--Use of Confucianism/other eastern-based logics (Jullien)

Bottom line: we should not assume Comte was right -- that "positivism" was the way and reflects the appropriate logic or frame for action -- i.e. "development."

gian p gentile (not verified)

Sat, 06/04/2011 - 7:55am


As an aside, I think you miss the basic point of Elliot's work on the Mekong Delta which is not that development programs turned the rural folk there into a "bourgeoisie." What Elliot argues is that there was radical social transformation in the Delta, but not primarily to the revolution succeeding, or the SVN winning, but from the death and destruction of war: that was the driver for change. Also, Elliot in the end argues that in the Delta the VC and its infrastructure were never broken and maintained strong links with the rural peasantry.



Mike in Hilo

Fri, 06/03/2011 - 11:44pm

Development is unquestionably a "good." But from my experience, to call it a war winner is a stretch. In David "RAND" Elliott's veritable Pentateuch about the Mekong Delta, the communist protagonists, in their own words, decry the seductive appeal of goods that flooded the countryside courtesy of USAID's Commodity Import Program--power tillers that replaced the buffalo, motors for the sampans (canoes), mechanized irrigation pumps, etc., changing a way of life. The majority of the Delta's peasantry was transformed into a rural bourgeoisie and by war's end only a minority still supported the Revolution (their words). Obviously some hearts were won.

But locally, more relevant in shaping behavior was the presence of a PAVN unit in a nearby, terrain-determined base area, whose proximity would empower a well-embedded enemy infrastructure (VCI) to intimidate and extort-- prosperity notwithstanding. I am much given to citing my first field trip--memorable to me because it was the first--out of Tay Ninh in 1971. I visited the villages in Tay Ninh's southwestern panhandle. This was a very Deltaic, rice growing area...lots of power tillers visible, stucco homes, lots of commercial motor vehicles. The place reeked of prosperity. And territorial forces were on guard at every canal bridge. But you had to know your area, as I did not yet. It was virtually adjacent to Base Area 713 in Svay Rieng province, Cambodia. And besides reflecting the widespread rural prosperity, the area was no doubt reaping a wndfall from rice sales to PAVN, who paid above the market price.
Most telling was the reaction of my boss, the Deputy Province Senior Adviser, when I enthusiastically reported my observations to him. This kindly LTC, an Armor officer from whom I would learn much over the next few months, looked at me sadly and simply said, "Hauben, I don't want to have to bury you."

rbyess (not verified)

Fri, 06/03/2011 - 5:08pm


If development consisted of foreigners, occupation and so forth, I would assuredly agree with you. But it does not. What you are describing is some sort of hamfisted imperialism that is as distant from good development practice as can be imagined.

COIN as currently practiced is not development. It violates most of the fundamental practices described in, for example, Natsios's excellent Nine Principles article (…).

Development is a long, slow and organic process whose principal characteristic is ownership by the host country itself. Providing gifts is not development, nor is digging holes for others. The most that foreigners can do is provide limited financial and technical assistance to help people solve their own problems.


An example? Every thoughtful analysis I have read about Afghanistan indicates that the insurgents are motivated by, and motivate others by, their discontent with the corrupt and ineffective central government in Kabul. They believe they can run the government better than the existing authorities. The American colonists you cite rebelled against King George for the same fundamental reason--that they felt exploited by a distant and unresponsive regime. No matter how misguided any insurgent group may be, they do all tend to have this much in common.


Fri, 06/03/2011 - 4:43pm


Don't believe I did a bait-and-switch, only a call for greater analysis of the situation. Take the example from the article of the bridge. A bridge (like a road) is socially neutral. It provides the people a value added product and a visible reminder that the government CAN do good things. My complaint was that we failed to determine what the issues were and target the development (as part of a coordinated strategy) to reduce or eliminate the insurgents political base.

I also believe that economic development it a critical part of almost any strategy dealing with an insurgency. It is based on a admittedly stereotypical view that economics play a part in creating the inequities that insurgents use to dissect the population politically ... and that money is a great equalizer. But you are right, if the complain is political equality as it was in the south in the 50s and 60s, then economic development will only get you so far.

All that said I will concede that development cannot win an insurgency alone. It can be a significant tool to help defeat an insurgency.

Bob's World

Fri, 06/03/2011 - 3:35pm


I assume you have not read my work, but to bait with "development" then to switch to "socio/political support" is disingenuous at best. I assure you I may be wrong, but I am not confused.

Let's stay on point. Insurgency is illegal politics, often violent, sometimes not. Absolutely the only true solution lies in a resolution of the socio/political grievances of the insurgent segment of the populace and the government. Historically this usually does not happen until the sitting government is defeated, though some governments have had the good sense to recognize major flaws and make major changes. The US government approach to our Civil Rights movement of the 60s is an example of the latter. Of note, President Johnson did not seek to appease the African American populace with "40 acres and a mule, or other such development programs. He addressed the core grievances driving the insurgency: The true right and ability to vote, the right to live wherever one can afford to live, and the right to equal opportunity under the law in general. No development there.

So, to my point here: "Development" will not and has not produced an enduring cure to insurgency. Similarly, neither has any but the most ruthlessly applied forms of kinetic military action either. Suppression? Certainly. But it always comes back until ultimately governance evolves in ways that address the drivers of insurgency.

In Afghanistan we have to date pointedly ignored the socio/political drivers of insurgency. The COG of this insurgency is the Constitution of Afghanistan, but the only time it is mentioned (other than in faint praise) is in fear that Karzai will seek to modify it to end term limits. This drives the revolution. The resistance is driven by the very presence of the Coalition and the application of Northern Alliance-based ANA/ANP sent out by Karzai to suppress the insurgent elements of his populace.

Here is a metric: If the entire Army and Police force (other than the ALP that Karzai resisted for years) answers to just one man and is dedicated to the sole mission of keeping him in power against internal forces (Taliban in Pakistan are still an internal force); then one is propping up a very, very failed socio/political model.

We have lost our perspective in Afghanistan and we need to regain it. Development was one of many detours away from a clear perspective. Now, IF we were to shift our primary focus to addressing the core problems of the Karzai government, then yes, we could indeed design some great development programs to help advance that cause as a strong supporting effort.

Good tactics cannot overcome bad strategy. Unfortunately our post Cold War national-level strategy has been drifting in an effort to find a new focus; and certainly our Afghan strategy has suffered from that as well as the heavy colonial/containment engagement lessons learned contained in doctrinal manuals such as FM 3-24.

We can do better. But we need a new perspective.



Fri, 06/03/2011 - 2:56pm


In my mind you are confusing theory with application. What you are suggesting is like saying "Airmobile units do not work because we keep losing too many soldiers when we throw them out of the helicopters while they are hovering 100 meters over the LZ." I had a BN Commander, LTC Sellers, who used to say "don't try to put an American solution on an Afghani problem" and that is what we continually try to do. We are fighting an enemy who base their legitimacy on traditional Afghani values and we do that by building schools to teach a different set of values, one that we believe these "backwards" people who have lived in that country for centuries really need because we obviously know better. They want social stability and we create social instability.

At the risk of being hated by nearly everyone, we should develop a system that is more familiar to the people - a strong central government (read monarchy) with ties to local power brokers and accepted (or at least not openly rejected) by the mullahs. Then work to "develop" that structure (including specifically its economic capability) until it is a functioning, self sustaining government. That would eliminate the ability to the enemy to claim the moral high ground by claiming that we are trying to change their society - which is exactly what we are attempting to do.

COIN development must be based on eliminating the justifiable complaints of the insurgents. That required an in depth and sometimes uncomfortable analysis of the population on their terms not on ours. It requires levels of analysis that perhaps we are either uncomfortable or incapable of conducting. But the idea that you cannot defeat an insurgency by eliminating its socio/political support is a step away from the answer, not towards it.

Bob's World

Fri, 06/03/2011 - 12:39pm


No one is arguing that Development is not a good thing. What I am saying is that there is no evidence in the history of man organizing under some form of government, of the lack of development causing insurgency to begin, or of the provision of development causing an existing insurgency to end. Period.

Poor people will take whatever you give them. Many will be grateful, some will be ingrateful, but they will take it all the same. That is not COIN.

The good people at CNAS, to include Drs. Nagl and Kilcullen; but also LTG Barno, Secretary Flournoy, etc, etc have sold the US government a bill of goods. We see now action in Congress and in the Pentagon to attempt to back out of this dark hole as gracefully as possible. Indicators are names that were high on certain lists for certain jobs being moved lower or removed; Congress reaching out actively looking for alternative perspectives from other sources.

Arguably no organization is more frustrated by this rabbit hole of "Development COIN" than the great people at USAID. Their professional opionion as to the proper role and application of development has been shouted down by the COIN experts looking to shore of their "Population-centric" theories. Like a government bailout of bad theory. I have good friends throughout the rank structure of AID, many in or recently returned from Afghanistan. One would be hard-pressed to find their stamp of endorsement on this approach.

No, the development surge, like the troop surge, is an effort to buy/kill a "decent interval" to allow the US to begin withdrawing troops on schedule. That is not COIN, it is the suppression of insurgency only to re-emerge as soon as those suppressive efforts are lifted. I doubt senior leaders believe it to be more than that. Karzai and his Northern Alliance government refuse to fairly govern the entire populace and have taken refuge behind our military and monetary support to serve their own interests. Sad. Criminally sad.

If the Emperor is draped in fine new clothing made of "Development" as a cure to insurgency, he is very, very naked indeed.


Will (not verified)

Fri, 06/03/2011 - 12:02pm

The article argues that 'development is not a monolithic entity; instead there are spectrums of activities that can fall under the heading. There is also often a large difference between intentions and outcomes, as there are in most projects which involve many different people and large amounts of money. Sceptics of 'development can readily cite many of these. Some would argue that the negative consequences of 'development are not worth the trouble. Others would argue that it is only through 'development that a strategic success can be achieved. Both of these positions are in some ways correct. The reality of 'development is that there are many subtleties and nuances in the process and the success of projects is highly situational. In areas where there is likely to be a significant backlash against 'development and its associated activities, efforts could be made to encourage 'economic participation, through secretive and silent activities that would not appear to be tainted by a foreign presence. Kilcullens example of subsidised-at-source generators is a good example of this.

Bob's World

Fri, 06/03/2011 - 11:50am


That might have been "modern" when Rome did it, it is hardly new or modern now. Besides it is all a cover for the true reason the foreign power is there, and that is all about their interests as they define them, not about those of the local populace or government.


Bill C. (not verified)

Fri, 06/03/2011 - 11:31am

Addendum to my comment above:

Thus, in these classic cases of "modern" foreigners wishing to "transform and incorporate" "heathen" civilizations, the basis for the population's grievances against their government is that they often DO NOT want to trade their freedom, their independence and their uniqueness for what "development" ultimately brings ("foreignation" and captivity by, dependence upon and commonness with a foreign system, a foreign society and its governors).

In circumstances such as these, the only legitimate government of the people would seem to be one that moved to provid the population what it desired; which is, to see the foreigners -- and their "development" -- thrown out and gone.

Bob's World

Fri, 06/03/2011 - 11:28am


Just one example please to support your position??


People do not attack their own govenrments for want of flush toilets and color TVs. It is how they FEEL about why they don't have such things that matters, and merely giving them the things without addressing what is shaping those negative feelings is flushing money down a hole. Perhaps the very well hole you just drilled for them.

George Washington was famously pissed at the shoddy goods at outrageous prices that he was forced to purchase from dishonest British Merchants. But it was not the high prices, nor the poor worksmanship, nor the inferior materials used on products bound for the colonies that drove him to become an insurgent. It was the disrespect and injustice of a King far away who saw him and his fellow colonists as second class citizens who existed only to serve the needs of true Englishmen.

If one only treats the symptoms, the cancer will surely kill them.

Bill C. (not verified)

Fri, 06/03/2011 - 10:37am

I think it depends:

a. If the population as a whole wants and needs "development" and is willing to accept the "baggage" that comes with development (foreigners up the wazu), then it (development) can help win a counterinsurgency.

b. If, however, the population has little use for or interest in development -- or, more importantly -- adamantly opposes what development brings with it (having one's country overrun by foreigners, having one's country become significantly controlled by and dependent upon foreigners and their system, and having one's state and society transformed and adjusted so as to better accommodate the wants, needs and interests of foreigners and their socieities), then these compromises required by "development" may well be -- hands down -- the factor that causes one to lose a counterinsurgency.

rbyess (not verified)

Fri, 06/03/2011 - 10:35am

In the big picture, development is the only way to defeat an counterinsurgency, for the reasons stated in the article. The key is to remove the basis for a population's grievances by delivering the security and services they demand.

COIN as currently practiced does not allow adequate time for these institutions to develop autonomously. The need to demonstrate progress in weekly commander's updates drives field operators to do something--anything--to show that we are not being idle. Hence the proliferation of fairy-dust projects with little staying power. These do not advance the long term objectives of creating government legitimacy and defusing the causes of the insurgency, and can even undermine it. Turning a firehose on a seedling does not make it grow faster.

Bob's World

Fri, 06/03/2011 - 8:33am

Neither "Development" nor "Combat" brought by some external power to artificially sustain a host nation government in the face of a nationalist insurgency will produce enduring effects UNLESS the causal roots radiating OUT from that flawed government are also addressed.

Too often such interventions are intended and designed to preserve, as unchanged as possible, the very government that is so horribly flawed in the eyes of some distinct segment of the populace so as to drive them to take illegal, and often with war-like violence, that government.

What won the "Hearts and Minds" in Malaya? The decision by Great Britain to remove the controlling relationship exercised through the office of their High Commissioner, granting peer status to a new state as a member of the commonwealth, and ensuring that the new nationalist government no longer excluded the large ethnic Chinese and Indian populace groups from equitable participation in the future economic and political success of Malaysia. All of the military tactics of "separating the insurgent from the populace" or "being a learning, adaptive military" is great, but it merely set the conditions for the political/policy actions that resolved the root grievances.

If I am starving and cannot feed my family, I may steal food at the market; I do not blow up a police station or school. If I reasonably believe that my condition is the result of some government policy of official discrimination; or the effect of some powerful external nation's influence over my government my reaction is very different indeed. I am now experiencing high conditions of insurgency, and will either Lead, Follow, or Support illegal political actions to address that grievance.

Building development projects that benefit those well connected to the current government, both in the profits from the construction and the benefits of the finished project ONLY MAKES THE CONDITIONS OF INSURGENCY WORSE.

The key is first refocusing the overall objective of the intervention.

It must be driven by true national interests (not outrageously inflated "vital interests" as applied to AFPAK); and any coalition must be made of those who SHARE those interests (not those coerced due to their NATO membership, or their fear that to not assist in some way will damage their relationship with the US causing them to appease the US over the objections of their own populaces).

If true interests exist, it then must in equal part focus on the repair of the CAUSAL aspects of poor governance (narrowly tailored, not to rebuild a country, but rather to help them purge the inequities out of their laws, or create an effective means to deliver those laws in a way perceived as just by the entire populaces, etc) rather than random acts of well drilling, road building, power development, school building, etc; BUT all done in a manner so as not to contribute to the existing perceptions that this government is little more than a puppet that draws far more legitimacy and pays far more care to itself and the foreign mentor than it does to the very people it is sworn to serve.

Development and Combat can both be good tools in an effective COIN operation. But first one must design an effective COIN operation.

Or, as I published here on SWJ last year:

Security and Rule of Law without Justice is Tyranny;
Development without Equity and Respect is Apartheid;
Governance without Legitimacy is Despotism; and
A populace experiencing any of the above without a voice is Hopeless.


Will (not verified)

Fri, 06/03/2011 - 8:04am

In the context of the COIN debate, is COIN not being held up as some monolithic entity, obscuring the details and subtleties that are the actual reality of carrying out operations? 'Winning hearts and minds has become an overused phrase which both sceptics and advocates use to bludgeon the opposition into silence with. There are many different stances between enemy and friend, as there are between winning and losing. This article implies that there are many subtleties within the term 'development, and while not all projects have been successful, some have been both cheap and apparently useful to NATO/US/Afghan Gov. and the local population.

gian p gentile (not verified)

Fri, 06/03/2011 - 7:11am

Well Dave Kilcullen in his new book titled "Counterinsurgency" states explicitly that in Coin winning "hearts and minds is critical."

The operative word or terms that explains US coin is not so much "hearts and minds" but the notion of "winning" or "gaining" the trust and allegiance of the local population to our side but more importantly to the side of the supported government. That is what these development projects ultimately aim to do, and in the end it is a strategic waste because it doesn't work.


Will (not verified)

Fri, 06/03/2011 - 5:57am

This article is very good. It highlights the breadth of activities that can be considered under the term 'development, and outlines key differences between large and small projects. Development is a term that has come under increasing pressure from many different fronts, not least from the sceptics of COIN. Perhaps it is time to replace the term with the phrase 'economic participation. Under this heading, the work of PRTs becomes not only about spending money, but about getting people engaged with the economic process in a far more visceral sense. Numerous authorities have highlighted the effectiveness of unbranded projects. These projects have no visible link to money from NATO/US/Afghan Government; instead the people who participate feel real ownership of the project because these outside forces appear not to have been involved in the process. A good example of this can be found in Kilcullens Accidental Guerrilla. At one point, the author talks about generators. Instead of branding generators and providing them free of charge, they were secretly subsidised to the point of being affordable at the level of the village collective. Villagers thus had the opportunity to buy one only when working together, and felt real ownership because they had invested their own funds in the project.


Thu, 06/02/2011 - 9:27pm

Yes, development can win a counterinsurgency, but not by winning hearts and minds or building schools. It can do it by eliminating the legitimate complaints of the population that is supporting the insurgents. I still believe that war, even small ones, are political exercises. Take away the insurgent's political base and they lose the capability to wage and effective campaign.