The Effect of Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq

86 Pages Posted: 7 Jul 2010 Last revised: 21 Oct 2010

See all articles by Luke N. Condra

Luke N. Condra

Stanford University

Joseph Felter

Stanford University

Radha Plumb

Facebook

Jacob N. Shapiro

Princeton University - Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs; Princeton University - Department of Political Science

Date Written: July 2010

Abstract

A central question in intrastate conflicts is how insurgents are able to mobilize supporters to participate in violent and risky activities. A common explanation is that violence committed by counterinsurgent forces mobilizes certain segments of the population through a range of mechanisms. We study the effects of civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan to quantify the effect of such casualties on subsequent insurgent violence. By comparing uniquely detailed micro-data along temporal, spatial, and gender dimensions we can distinguish short-run 'information' and 'capacity' effects from the longer run 'propaganda' and 'revenge' effects. In Afghanistan we find strong evidence that local exposure to civilian casualties caused by international forces leads to increased insurgent violence over the long-run, what we term the 'revenge' effect. Matching districts with similar past trends in violence shows that counterinsurgent-generated civilian casualties from a typical incident are responsible for 1 additional violent incident in an average sized district in the following 6 weeks and lead to increased violence over the next 6 months. There is no evidence that out-of-area events--errant air strikes for example--lead to increased violence, nor is there evidence of short run effects, thus ruling out the propaganda, information, and capacity mechanisms. Critically, we find no evidence of a similar reaction to civilian casualties in Iraq, suggesting the constraints on insurgent production of violence may be quite conflict-specific. Our results imply that minimizing harm to civilians may indeed help counterinsurgent forces in Afghanistan to reduce insurgent recruitment.

Suggested Citation

Condra, Luke N. and Felter, Joseph and Plumb, Radha and Shapiro, Jacob N., The Effect of Civilian Casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq (July 2010). NBER Working Paper No. w16152. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1635675

Luke N. Condra (Contact Author)

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Joseph Felter

Stanford University ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305-6010
United States

Radha Plumb

Facebook ( email )

Menlo Park, CA 94025
United States

Jacob N. Shapiro

Princeton University - Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs ( email )

Princeton University
Princeton, NJ 08544-1021
United States

Princeton University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Corwin Hall
Princeton, NJ 08544-1013
United States

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