Humanitarian Relief and Reconstruction Program Helped Improve Economic Conditions and Security in Afghanistan

For Release

October 13, 2016

The ability of the U.S. military to quickly provide small-scale humanitarian relief and reconstruction services in Afghanistan enhanced the operational effectiveness of U.S. forces in that nation, a new RAND report suggests.

The report examines the use of the Commander's Emergency Response Program, which is commonly known as CERP, in Afghanistan during the counterinsurgency-focused 2010–2013 time frame. RAND researchers examined the program's effectiveness in supporting local populations and tactical military objectives.

“We found that operations in which the Commander's Emergency Response Program was nested improved economic conditions and security for Afghans, and that the program was associated with increases in intelligence gathering, coalition freedom of movement and coalition engagements with the enemy,” said Daniel Egel, the lead author of the study and an economist at the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization. “Areas where these projects were implemented also saw long-term decreases in enemy engagements.”

The study relied on a sophisticated statistical approach using high-resolution geospatial data on population- and coalition-focused outcomes, with the intent of teasing out the causal impacts of the Commander's Emergency Response Program. Researchers also conducted interviews with nearly 200 U.S. soldiers who had direct experience in implementing these projects.

Projects under the Commander's Emergency Response Program ranged from very small (a few hundred dollars to rehabilitate a local well) to multi-million dollar infrastructure projects (hydro dam and reservoir restoration). The research concluded that smaller projects with less money spent were easier to implement, monitor and control. Conversely, larger projects that often were slower to implement sometimes led to negative secondary effects, including local inflation, corruption or unfulfilled expectations.

The tactical operators interviewed by researchers overwhelmingly believed that Commander's Emergency Response Program was a useful tool, although they suggested that the execution of the program in Afghanistan was far from optimal. In addition, researchers found that projects were more effective in achieving softer outcomes — e.g., building rapport, enhancing local governance and security — than in improving infrastructure.

“The report recommends that ahead of future operations, the Department of Defense should conduct a senior-level review of the Commander's Emergency Response Program to synthesize insights into how the program might support counterterrorism, foreign internal defense, humanitarian assistance and counterinsurgency operations,” said Charles Ries, one of the authors and vice president, international at RAND.

The Commander's Emergency Response Program was funded initially in 2003 with $180 million seized from the Saddam Hussein regime. The U.S. Department of Defense obtained permission to spend the seized funds to assist Iraqis and support reconstruction efforts.

Congress subsequently authorized, beginning in fiscal year 2004, more than $7.8 billion for the Commander's Emergency Response Program in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Philippines. The working draft of the fiscal year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act has requested an additional $5 million for the Commander's Emergency Response Program.

The report, “Investing in the Fight: Assessing the Use of the Commander's Emergency Response Program in Afghanistan,” can be found at Other authors of the report include Ben Connable, Todd Helmus, Eric Robinson, Isaac Baruffi, Melissa Bradley, Kurt Card, Kathleen Loa, Sean Mann, Fernando Sedano, Stephan Seabrook and Robert Stewart.

Funding for the study was provided by the Office for Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation and the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy. The research was conducted within the RAND National Security Research Division. The division conducts research and analysis on defense and national security topics for the U.S. and allied defense, foreign policy, homeland security, and intelligence communities and foundations and other nongovernmental organizations that support defense and national security analysis.

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