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Buying the Enemy: Demobilization Programs in the Midst of COIN

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Buying the Enemy: Demobilization Programs in the Midst of Counterinsurgency

by Eric Jardine

Download the full article: Buying the Enemy: Demobilization Programs in the Midst of COIN

On January 28th, 2010, leaders from 70 nations met in London for a conference on the future of Afghanistan. Among the various topics that were discussed, which included the combat of government corruption and the training of the Afghan National Army, one subject in particular rose to a place of prominence. This was the proposal for a Peace and Reintegration Trust Fund that would facilitate the demobilization and reintegration of Taliban and other insurgent fighters back into Afghan society. As the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, stated in his opening address to the assembled delegates, "We are today establishing an international trust fund to finance this Afghan-led peace and reintegration program to provide an economic alternative to those who have none." Immediately following the conference, pledges of support were given and the Fund's revenues swelled to an estimated 500 million dollars.

The basic premise of the Fund is that a properly structured program can provide an incentive for Taliban fighters to renounce violence and to reintegrate into Afghan society. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has endorsed the Fund, while also revealing something of its basic assumption, stating: "We expect that a lot of the foot soldiers on the battlefield will be leaving the Taliban [as a result of the fund] because many of them ... are tired of fighting." The fund is intended, therefore, to provide a material incentive for disillusioned guerrillas to quit the battle, particularly those that have chosen violence out of sheer economic necessity. Such a targeting is also liable to be fairly effective, because, according to some U.S. estimates, as many as 80 percent of Taliban insurgents are fighting only out of the need for money and not out of any broader ideological design. While the accuracy of this statistical figure could be disputed, the typical seasonal lull in insurgency intensity, which tends to correspond to periods of agricultural demand for laborers, does suggest that if proper incentives could be constructed many individuals might choose to work rather than to fight.

The use of such an incentive program appears to be quite promising and it has won numerous adherents within the United States' mission in Afghanistan. Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke, for example, rhetorically stated with reference to the fund, that: "The people out there we are talking about are not the ideological leaders. And isn't it a lot better to invite them off the battlefield through a program of jobs, land, [and] integration, than it is to have to try and kill everyone one of them?" Similarly, the top American General in-theatre, Stanley McChrystal, argued that, "A political solution to all conflicts is the inevitable outcome," and "reintegration of fighters can take a lot of energy out of the current levels of insurgency."

Similar programs have, of course, been used in other counterinsurgencies. During the British conduct of counterinsurgency in Malaya 1948-1960, a fund was established to encourage communist guerrillas to turn in their arms and to demobilize in exchange for 350 dollars and a sack of rice. This program failed in many of its objectives, with only an approximate 20 percent of arms and insurgents turning themselves over to the authorities. These rewards were offered during the early stages of the insurgency, when ideological fervor was strongest and the outcome of the struggle was still in question. And so, in this instance, the incentives were too weak to properly induce insurgency fighters to quit the battle.

Download the full article: Buying the Enemy: Demobilization Programs in the Midst of COIN

Eric Jardine is a Ph.D. candidate in the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, and a Ph.D. Student Fellow of the Centre for Security and Defence Studies, Carleton University. He has written award-winning essays on civil-military relations and the conduct of counterinsurgency and has published articles in The Journal of Military and Strategic Studies, SITREP, The Canadian Military Journal, and Strategic Datalink. His Doctoral research focuses upon the conduct and the resolution of counterinsurgencies, with a particular focus on Algeria, Indo-China and Vietnam, Malaya, and Afghanistan.

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