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Explaining Support for Combatants during Wartime: A Survey Experiment in Afghanistan



How are civilian attitudes toward combatants affected by wartime victimization? Are these effects conditional on which combatant inflicted the harm? We investigate the determinants of wartime civilian attitudes towards combatants using a survey experiment across 204 villages in five Pashtun-dominated provinces of Afghanistan—the heart of the Taliban insurgency. We use endorsement experiments to indirectly elicit truthful answers to sensitive questions about support for different combatants. We demonstrate that civilian attitudes are asymmetric in nature. Harm inflicted by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) is met with reduced support for ISAF and increased support for the Taliban, but Taliban-inflicted harm does not translate into greater ISAF support. We combine a multistage sampling design with hierarchical modeling to estimate ISAF and Taliban support at the individual, village, and district levels, permitting a more fine-grained analysis of wartime attitudes than previously possible.


Corresponding author

Jason Lyall is Associate Professor of Political Science, Department of Political Science, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520 (,
Graeme Blair is a Ph.D. candidate, Department of Politics, Princeton University, Princeton NJ 08544 (,
Kosuke Imai is Professor, Department of Politics, Princeton University, Princeton NJ 08544 (,


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