Research / BFI Working PaperJan 29, 2022

Rebel Capacity, Intelligence Gathering, and Combat Tactics

Classic and modern theories of rebel warfare emphasize the role of resource endowments. We demonstrate that intelligence gathering, made possible by the endowments, plays a critical role in determining specifics of how rebels launch complex attacks against better-equipped government forces. We test implications of a theoretical model using highly detailed data about Afghan rebel attacks, insurgent-led spy networks, and counterinsurgent operations. Leveraging quasi-random variation in opium suitability, we find that improved rebel capacity is associated with (1) additional counter-surveillance, (2) increased insurgent operations, (3) improved battlefield tactics through technological innovation, increased complexity, and attack clustering, and (4) increased effectiveness against security forces, especially harder targets. These results show that access to capital, coupled with intelligence gathering, meaningfully impacts how and where rebels fight.

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