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Aid as a Tool against Insurgency: Evidence from Contested and Controlled Territory in Afghanistan


Findings in political science, economics, and security studies suggest that during civil war aid can be used to help establish control of contested areas and reduce insurgent violence by winning the “hearts and minds” of the population. These accounts typically ignore the strategic implications of aid distribution by progovernment forces, namely that rebel groups should resist the implementation of aid projects that would undermine their position. Using a new dataset of fine-grained and geolocated violence incidents in Afghanistan and random variation in the administration of some U.S. counterinsurgency aid, I show that insurgents strategically respond to counterinsurgency aid in contested districts by resisting through violent means. The results indicate that civilian aid only reduces insurgent violence when distributed in districts already controlled by progovernment forces; when allocated to contested districts civilian aid in fact causes a significant increase in insurgent violence. The results also indicate that the effect of counterinsurgency aid on violence varies by project type, and can be overwhelmed by macrolevel strategic changes in the conflict.

Corresponding author
Renard Sexton is doctoral candidate, Department of Politics, New York University, 19 West 4th Street, New York, NY 10012 (
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