Konstantin Sonin, Austin L. Wright

Rebel Capacity, Intelligence Gathering, and the Timing of Combat Operations

Abstract: Classic and modern theories of rebel warfare emphasize the role of resource endowments. We demonstrate that intelligence gathering, made possible by these 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) increased insurgent operations; (2) improved battlefield tactics through technological innovation, increased complexity, and attack clustering; and (3) 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.

American Journal of Political Science

The University of Chicago