- Written by Joshua Hersh
16 Oct 2012
ANOTHER AMERICAN WAR WITHOUT END - In late 2008, Andrew Wilder set out on a hunt for answers in Afghanistan. For years, Wilder, a former development worker who had recently settled into a post at Tufts University, had watched with dismay as billions of American assistance dollars poured into programs in Afghanistan designed to help win “hearts and minds,” and bring stability to the troubled nation.
New highways stretched hundreds of miles across the country, gleaming hospitals and schools sprang up in remote villages and just about everyone seemed to have a cell phone.
The “hearts and minds” strategy, known as counterinsurgency, or COIN, called for a delicate balance of military pressures and civil incentives: military action against the enemy, combined with generous programs designed to win over the gratitude and trust of the people. If U.S. forces could free volatile regions from the Taliban’s grasp, policymakers in Washington believed, then, together with development experts, they could earn the support of local Afghans by keeping them safe and building a lasting economy and reliable government institutions.
But something wasn’t working. Afghanistan remained as volatile as ever. President Hamid Karzai’s government was in disarray, the nascent Afghan army and police force continued to buckle under the weight of their responsibilities, and a resurgent Taliban attacked seemingly at will.
Within Washington policy circles, it had become clear that development plans had not done their part to improve stability, but planners couldn’t agree on what to change. Some thought the projects had to get bigger and bolder. Others, including many in the U.S. military, believed the answer lay in more discreet efforts — improving water and electricity reliability, or empowering ground-level commanders to dispense funds on smaller initiatives.
Through $25,000 “quick-impact projects,” like providing work for military-aged males digging irrigation canals, the thinking went, money could be deployed “as a weapons system,” in the words of one 2009 U.S. commanders manual. (The Rest of Joshua Hersh’ Afghanistan perspective … including the doubts about its conclusion and the chance for success … here.)
Vol 10 Issue 83
Pub: Oct 16, 2012