The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend, Unless They’re a Terrorist: Proxy Use of Middle Eastern Non-state Actors in U.S. Counterterrorism Policy

By: Matthew Buckwald

April 20, 2020

Virtual Spring 2020 REWA Student Symposium

My research explores the conditions of non-state actors under which contemporary U.S. counterterrorism policy is most (or least) successfully executive. This is achieved through a comparative analysis of significant policy cases for the United States. The conditions at hand, in this context, refer to the qualities and characteristics of the group, such as their history, their sociopolitical status, relationship with the government, location, religious affiliations, and more. It provides an in-depth analysis of two major non-state actors: the Syrian Democratic Forces (dominated by the Kurds who are majority Sunni, but with the addition of U.S.-recruited ethnic and religious minority militias) and the Afghan Local Police (several ethnic, tribal, and religious minorities recruited to patrol their villages, supported by the United States). It addresses the role of non-state groups in U.S. counterterrorism policy and attempts to assess the effectiveness of using these groups to counter terrorism. If a new terrorist group were to emerge in another part of the world in the coming years, this research provides those qualities of the proxy relationship that, according to the cases analyzed, produce the most and least successful proxy relationships.


Harriet Allsopp and Wladimir Van Wilgenburg, The Kurds of Northern Syria: Governance, Diversity and Conflicts (I.B. Tauris, 2019).

Eli Berman and David A. Lake, Proxy Wars: Suppressing Violence Through Local Agents (Cornell University Press, 2019).

Vanda Felbab-Brown, “Hurray for militias? Not so fast: Lessons from the Afghan Local Police experience,” Small Wars & Insurgencies 27:2, (2016) 258–281.

Steve Coll, Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan (New York: Penguin Press, 2018).

Andrew Mumford, Proxy Warfare: War and Conflict in the Modern World (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2013).

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