Rebel Tactics


Economic Shocks and Rebel Tactics

Rebel tactics vary significantly within insurgencies. I argue the local technologies of rebellion are constrained by three factors: rebel capacity, outside options, and state strength. I test the argument with microdata on rebel violence in Colombia and exploit plausibly random shocks to local income. I find evidence that economic shocks substantially affect rebel tactics. When rebel capacity increases, insurgents favor conventional tactics. Alternatively, when state strength increases and outside options improve, rebels favor irregular tactics. These results are robust to accounting for numerous potential sources of bias, including atmospheric dispersion of illicit crop herbicides, and violence spillovers from drug trafficking.


Latest draft here.

Commodity production by municipality, Colombia


Randomized Combat


Rebel Capacity and Randomized Combat

w. Konstantin Sonin, Jarnickae Wilson

Classic theories of counterinsurgency claim rebel forces execute attacks in an unpredictable manner to limit the government’s ability to anticipate and defend against them. We study a model of combat during an irregular insurgency. We test empirical implications of the theoretical model using newly declassified military records and granular data on opium production and farmgate prices from Afghanistan. Consistent with our model, we find that the capacity (wealth) of local rebel units influences the timing of their attacks. As rebels gather more resources, it becomes easier to distinguish the within-day timing of attacks from random noise. These findings clarify how the accumulation of resources by armed groups can alter rebel tactics.


Latest draft here.


Insurgent Learning


Insurgent Learning

w. Francesco Trebbi, Eric Weese, Andrew C. Shaver

We study insurgent learning during a counterinsurgency campaign. We examine adaptation to counterinsurgent defeat technologies using newly declassified microdata documenting improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Afghanistan from 2006 to 2014. This period was characterized by substantial US investments in anti-IED technology and equipment. We find no evidence of decreasing effectiveness of IEDs across time. Qualitative evidence from a number of conflicts suggests that this is due to innovations in IED devices and tactics. Our results are robust to numerous alternative specifications, and yield insights on a technological revolution in insurgent violence—the proliferation and evolution of IEDs—with implications for scholarship on political violence.


Latest draft here.

Randomness of insurgent attacks decreases as rebel revenue from opium increases


Improvised Explosive Device (IED) outcomes during Operation Enduring Freedom