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Research Question

  1. What can potential similar initiatives learn from the activities of the Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO) in Afghanistan?

The Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO), a multi-year endeavor for the U.S. Department of Defense, sought to use private-sector strategies to create sustainable economies in Iraq and Afghanistan. In this report, RAND researchers use semistructured interviews and both public and internal documentation to identify lessons from the Task Force's activities in Afghanistan, offering insights for similar projects in the future.

The analysis describes the multitude of the Task Force's stakeholders resulting from its complex institutional status, plus the challenges that resulted from these diverse stakeholders. It uses a stakeholder-focused approach to explore several prominent TFBSO projects, informed by disparate stakeholder views. Ultimately, lessons identified from the Task Force's activities in Afghanistan fell under six categories: programmatic flexibility, leadership, measures of success, staffing, freedom of movement, and contracting.

Because economic development is likely to remain a key component of U.S. contingency operations, policymakers can use the lessons identified in this report when planning and designing similar organizations in the future to find the right balance for success.

Key Findings

Success Requires Finding a Delicate Balance

  • For an innovative, entrepreneurial organization within government, success is about finding a delicate balance — between freedom to take risks and necessary oversight, between quick-turn project delivery and long-term development outcomes, and between pursuing a disruptive business model and remaining a team player.
  • Key categories of lessons identified relate to programmatic flexibility, leadership, measures of success, staffing, freedom of movement, and contracting.

Future TFBSO-Like Constructs Must Make Four Major Decisions

  • Where will such an expeditionary private-sector development capacity be housed within the government?
  • How will staffing strategies ensure good coordination and strategy synchronization, technical expertise, and a balance between short-term focus and long-term development effects?
  • How will the organization ensure a clearly articulated written strategy, an ongoing monitoring and evaluation approach, and regular and structured engagements with the organization's multitude of stakeholders?
  • Which types of projects will be the focus of the organization (for example, physical, capital-intensive infrastructure projects or human capital–intensive activities, such as matchmaking and value chain development)?


  • In both Afghanistan and Iraq, the Task Force was a rapidly fielded initiative designed to respond to an urgent operational requirement of military commanders. Although the proponent of any future organization may differ, policymakers should expect and plan that any effort of this kind will be similarly expedited.
  • We recommend that the U.S. policy community plan for future organizational solutions to address the lessons from Afghanistan identified in this report.

This research was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense's Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO) and conducted within the International Security and Defense Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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