Department or Program

Political Science

Additional Department or Program (if any)

Political Science

Title of Approved Individual Major

Political Science

Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor

Paul K. MacDonald

Additional Advisor(s)

Stacie Goddard


Airstrikes have been thrust into the spotlight recently, in part because of their integral role in the campaign against the Islamic State but also because of the Saudi bombing campaign in Yemen. In fact, air power has long been a critical component of U.S. strategy in counterinsurgency warfare. If we are to continue to use airstrikes in order to fight violent extremism, we must understand their effects on local security. Yet relatively little satisfying research exists which explores the effects of airstrikes on local levels of violence. Previous studies limit themselves to tracking the number and location of insurgent attacks rather than examining the broader character of insurgent violence and how much that violence impacts the daily lives of local residents. Additionally, large nation-wide statistical analyses prevent us from deeply examining the ways in which specific local conditions influence the repercussions of an airstrike. Overall, more nuance is needed if we are to truly understand the effect of airstrikes on local insurgent violence. In this study, I turn to two cases in Afghanistan—the May 4 airstrike in Farah Province and the September 4 airstrike in Kunduz Province. Both incidents were mass-casualty airstrikes, which resulted in the deaths of over 100 civilians by some estimates. I used news reports and interviews with three military personnel and a civilian aid worker who were on the ground in Kunduz to better understand the effect of the airstrikes on local security. The results were entirely different in the two cases. While the Farah airstrike resulted in widespread political backlash and an increase in insurgent violence, the Kunduz airstrike resulted in virtually no political backlash and a decrease in insurgent violence. All in all, the results demonstrate that the changes in the security landscape, even after a large mass-casualty airstrike, are subtle and contingent upon local conditions.