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Evaluating Female Engagement Team Effectiveness in Afghanistan

July 19, 2012 Comments off

Evaluating Female Engagement Team Effectiveness in Afghanistan (PDF)

Source:  Wellesley College Digital Scholarship and Archive
One hallmark of the United States’ population-centric strategy in Afghanistan has been the development of specialized teams tasked with engaging local populations. One such team is the Female Engagement Team (FET), which the military first developed in 2009 to overcome cultural barriers to access Afghan females, a previously untouchable segment of the Afghan population. The job of the all-female teams is to engage local women, and at times men and children, in support of battle owners’ counterinsurgency objectives. The FET mission statement has undergone many modifications, but can currently be summarized as follows: influence the population through persistent and consistent interaction to create stability and security.
For its relatively small size, the program has received an enormous amount of attention and praise. While the teams are frequently heralded as a success both in military circles and in the media, I contend that assertions that the FET program has been a success are problematic. The FET program has been promoted and defended as a critical element of population-centric counterinsurgency that separates the insurgency from the population on which it depends for support, but there has been no meaningful assessment from which one can make conclusions about the contribution of the teams as a COIN tool.
Specifically, I argue that current assessment models for the FET program are insufficient in two respects. First, while the military has collected a significant amount of data on their independent variable—the activities FETs have done to engage the Afghan population—they have failed to gather in any systematic fashion data that connect the actions of the teams to the mechanisms of population-centric COIN through which they are believed to operate. In particular, the military has not convincingly shown that the outreach conducted by the teams influences women and their communities to stop enabling the insurgency and instead support coalition forces and the Government of Afghanistan (GIRoA). Second, the military has failed to establish a causal link between FETs and successful outcomes, most notably, a decrease in insurgency violence. In the absence of sound assessment on which to draw, proponents of the program have relied heavily upon untested assumptions, sometimes problematic, about the impact of FET engagements among the population, as well as the relevance of those engagements for meeting the goal of weakening the insurgency, to conclude that the program has been a success.
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