Winning Hearts and Minds, Losing the War: Public Opinion, COIN, and Rebel Strategy in Afghanistan, 2009-2014
46 Pages Posted: 9 Jul 2019
Date Written: July 3, 2019
Relying on survey and conflict data collected by the ISAF at the district level in Afghanistan from 2009-2014, this paper explores the causal relationships between public opinion, levels of insurgency, and counterinsurgent strategy. In order to overcome potential endogeneity problems, it relies on Bayesian Dynamical Systems Modelling, which makes minimal assumptions about how relevant variables relate to one another and is designed to uncover interactive and non-linear links between them. Consistent with COIN theory, the American surge increased support for the Afghan government, the most violent areas of the country saw reductions in attacks, and insurgent activity increased least in areas where support for the Afghan government was high. Nonetheless, the Taliban was able to expand the insurgency to more areas of the country, and, in districts where there was more counterinsurgent activity, higher support for the government was associated with increased Taliban activity. This is likely because, knowing it cannot take and hold territory due to the presence of ISAF forces, rebels seek to disrupt the successful implementation of hearts and minds and stretch the resources of the enemy. Moreover, this strategy appears to be somewhat effective, as more insurgent activity is associated with less legitimacy for the state. The results show that while hearts and minds can be won and public support for the government can benefit counterinsurgents, rebel forces can use strategy in order to disrupt this process.
Keywords: Afghanistan, civil war, counterinsurgency
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