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Research Questions

  1. What types of effects were CERP projects used to achieve?
  2. How did they hope to achieve those effects?
  3. Were CERP projects effective?
  4. What were the key challenges and good practices underlying CERP's implementation in Afghanistan?

This report examines the use of the Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP) in Afghanistan. It explores the effectiveness of CERP in supporting tactical operations in Afghanistan during the counterinsurgency-focused 2010–2013 time frame using qualitative and quantitative methods and describes CERP's origins, history, and existing research on the effectiveness of CERP in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The qualitative component of this analysis provides an assessment of CERP from the perspective of its implementers, drawing on interviews with nearly 200 military officers and noncommissioned officers who designed and implemented CERP projects. These data provide a fine-grain view of the program on the ground, examining projects its implementers thought were successful and those viewed as unsuccessful. Our intent is to understand how and why tactical and operational units used CERP and whether the program achieved its intended effects in the local areas where it was used.

The quantitative analysis explores the relationship of CERP activity with both population- and coalition-focused outcomes. Our analysis of population-focused outcomes studies population movements, economic activity, and agricultural activity. The comparable analysis of coalition-focused outcomes focuses on intelligence about enemy activity, attacks involving coalition forces, and coalition freedom of movement. This analysis uses geospatial analytic methods, in which CERP administrative data and detailed data from 400 CERP projects collected in our qualitative data set are linked to outcomes based on highly granular locational information. The inclusion of data on the disposition of U.S. forces allows us to compare the impact of U.S. operations with CERP to those without.

Key Findings

CERP Spending Can Be Effective When Nested Within Operations

  • CERP operations are associated with enhancing the security and economic environment of the local population over the long term and long-term reductions in violent attacks against coalition forces.

Analysis Suggests That Quantitative Measures of CERP Spending Function as a Proxy for Overall Coalition Activity

  • CERP spending on compensation payments, local security, and humanitarian assistance seem to function as a proxy for coalition-kinetic military operations, while spending on agriculture, public services, transportation, and water functions as a proxy for development-focused military operations.

CERP Implementers Employed a Diversity of "Theories of Change" in Their Application of CERP

  • The implementers' theories of change are the causal pathways through which they believe they could achieve these population- and coalition-focused outcomes.

"Softer" Outcomes (e.g., Building Relationships with Locals) Were More Important to Implementers Than Building Infrastructure

  • Projects were much more effective in building rapport, freedom of movement for locals and coalition forces, and local governance and security.
  • Efforts to improve these softer outcomes were reportedly successful some 75–80 percent of the time.

Almost All Operators Indicated That Implementation in Afghanistan Was Far from Optimal and That Significant Changes to the Program Should Be Made

  • Significant challenges face the program, either in terms of the way that it was administered by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) or implemented in the field.
  • The challenges highlighted by these operators echoed the perspectives offered by senior leaders and the existing literature on CERP.


  • Consider restricting CERP to only small dollar-value projects. Many of the operators we interviewed indicated that CERP was one of the few DoD programs where it was truly possible to do "more for less," as small projects were easier to implement, monitor, and control and were thus typically perceived as being more effective than larger projects.
  • Develop processes that ensure that CERP projects are effectively transitioned to incoming units. The transition of incomplete projects from one unit to the next often created significant problems for the incoming units.
  • Ensure that all relevant units have personnel with appropriate training and experience to execute CERP. While the Special Operation Forces (SOF) community was able to rely on the expertise of civil-affairs teams in executing CERP in Afghanistan, these teams were often few and far between, even for the Special Operation Forces community.
  • Create a more formal role for United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and civilian authorities in the implementation of CERP. Both military and civilian personnel highlighted the value of USAID involvement in the implementation of CERP.

This research was sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation and the Office of the Secretary of Defense for Policy 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.

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