Can Economic Assistance Shape Combatant Support in Wartime? Experimental Evidence from Afghanistan
129 Pages Posted: 22 Apr 2019
Date Written: April 20, 2019
Governments, militaries, and aid organizations all rely on economic interventions to shape civilian attitudes toward combatants during wartime. We have, however, little individual-level evidence that these "hearts and minds'' programs actually influence combatant support. We address this problem by conducting a factorial randomized control trial of two common interventions -- vocational training and cash transfers -- on combatant support among 2,597 at-risk youth in Kandahar, Afghanistan. We find that training only improved economic livelihoods modestly and had little effect on combatant support. Cash failed to lift incomes, producing a boom-and-bust dynamic in which pro-government sentiment initially spiked and then quickly reversed itself, leaving a residue of increased Taliban support. Training and cash jointly failed to improve beneficiaries' livelihoods but did increase support for the Afghan government for at least nine months. These findings suggest that aid affects attitudes by providing information about government resolve and competence rather than increasing recipients' income.
Keywords: insurgency, credit capture, opportunity cost, theories of rebellion, livelihood training, unconditional cash transfer, Afghanistan
JEL Classification: B03, D14, D71, D74
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation