Iraqi forces recently began an offensive to retake the city of Mosul, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Iraq. The real challenge is what comes afterward. With over one million refugees and a city leveled by war, this is fertile ground for criminal and insurgent activity. As Iraqi military units prepare to stabilize and rebuild Mosul in the aftermath of major combat operations, a small contingent of U.S. advisors will be advising them throughout the process. The question is: How do we get it right this time around?

Since the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. military has discovered it could not spend its way to stability in volatile regions. There are no simple Marshall Plans for these places. Humanitarian aid and reconstruction projects have proven not only more costly than estimated, but also ineffective. We’ve spent over $60 billion in Iraq and $114 billion in Afghanistan, yet both countries remain fragile and have massive security vacuums. Our own auditor, the Special Investigator General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), has found that over $8 billion in reconstruction funds were simply wasted. Given large federal budget deficits and growing national debt, the U.S. can no longer write blank checks to fund overseas stabilization efforts.

Instead, “tactical economics” can provide a new way for the U.S. military to think about employing our economic resources to address ground-level instability during military operations. It is a shift away from large-scale and expensive reconstruction efforts and differs from programs that focus on the “macro” economy, which are extremely complex, have long timeframes for measurement, and ultimately fall within the realm of better-equipped agencies such as the State Department and USAID. Conversely, tactical economics focuses on achieving specific tactical effects — particularly violence reduction — as measured by data the military routinely records.

Read More: Foreign Policy

Featured Image – Taking Mosul in 2003, at the Archway at the edge of the city. A Mine Clearing Line Charge (MCLIC) in tow behind a Small Engineer Excavation Vehicle – Buck Clay

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