Jason Lyall, associate professor of political science at Yale, spoke to students and faculty in Higgins 300 about the effects of U.S. violence and aid in Afghanistan on Jan. 28. His talk, titled, “Aid, Violence, and Post-2014 Afghanistan,” is part of the Afghanistan After 2014 lecture series.
The lecture was divided into four parts: the effects of aid, the effects of violence, the intersection of aid and violence, and possible post-2014 scenarios.
Lyall started by saying that much of what is happening in Afghanistan now will continue throughout the next year. When considering Afghanistan, it’s important to look at the whole picture, he said.
“One thing the commentators get wrong about Afghanistan is that they look at one or the other,” he said. “To really understand Afghanistan I think you have to understand the intersection of aid and violence.”
He then moved on to speak on one failed counter-insurgency theory. USAID’s theory that the insurgency is made up of unemployed males resulted in $275 million spent in the last three years on labor projects in Afghanistan to provide jobs. USAID believed that creating jobs for these young men would help to design an Afghan identity and thus keep them out of the Taliban. However, as Lyall explained, this theory was never based in legitimate science and ended up failing.
His ultimate conclusion concerning aid was that the U.S.’s approach to aid will inevitably fail because it is given too much money to spend wisely. The aid that comes to Afghanistan is known as the “hard rain problem”: The money hit the country like a hard rain on pavement and went in many different directions. This set up a countrywide scramble for the resources, which increases violence and corruption and de-legitimatizes the Afghan government, he said.
In addition, aid sent to decrease Taliban recruitment failed because the theories that underlie these packages are often wrong-men don’t join the Taliban due to grievances or lack of a job. The social science theory that says unemployment leads to violence is probably not correct, Lyall said.
“Radicalization often takes place after joining the organization, not before,” he said.
Lyall then went on to discuss the effects of airstrikes and shows of force between 2006 and 2011. An airstrike can be multiple bombs dropped in one place, while a show of force consists of a military plane’s flying low over a village to intimidate the Taliban stationed there. While these acts are meant to decrease violence, Lyall explained that the opposite is actually true.
“Generally, you increase insurgent violence. Every time you drop a bomb on a village you get more violence out of it,” he said. “The aid on the ground is creating incentives for violence, and then you’re airstriking on top of that which is creating incentives for violence. You start seeing the patterns of why we are where we are in Afghanistan.”
In addition to problems with aid and violence, the decentralization of the Taliban has further complicated the issue. Due to airstrikes and headhunting efforts, the Taliban lacks central leadership. The overwhelming majority of the group’s senior commanders has been killed or has moved to Pakistan. Their positions have been refilled many times over, Lyall said. This has also led to increased radicalization, as the young Taliban soldiers launch attacks to try to show the new leadership how strong they are. The moderates are mostly dead, and the newly young and radical forces are difficult to negotiate with, Lyall said.
In light of these issues, there are three scenarios likely to occur after 2014, Lyall said. First, the most likely scenario is to continue what is happening now: low-level intensity violence against Afghan forces and a decreasing number of bases open. Second, the Taliban is going to continue marching through Afghanistan to carve out an area they can control. Third-and least likely-is the possibility of a negotiated settlement. Lyall does not see this happening.
“I don’t know why the Taliban would sign on if they think they’re winning,” he said. “They’re probably right on that. The best way to win a counter-insurgency campaign is never to have had one.”