November 14, 2016

Remodeling Partner Capacity

Maximizing the Effectiveness of U.S. Counterterrorism Security Assistance

Since the September 11, 2001, attacks, the U.S. government (USG) has used security assistance programs with partner nations to advance its counterterrorism (CT) objectives. These programs serve two main purposes: first, to build the capacity of partners, who are best positioned to address local security and governance challenges; and second, to incentivize actions in these areas and others that advance U.S. counterterrorism interests. The rationale underpinning this approach is that partners are not only best positioned to address certain security challenges, but also that burden sharing is essential if the United States is to avoid the type of overreach that can dilute its political and military power. Thus, these programs, although expensive, are intended to defray costs away from the United States, which learned from the Iraq and Afghanistan experiences that a counterterrorism strategy centered on a heavy American footprint is costly and politically unsustainable. 

Despite the proliferation of security assistance authorities and programs, the U.S. government has only recently begun to mature the joint planning and evaluation processes that many agree should drive such programming. For example, security assistance implementing agencies have just begun to wrestle with developing monitoring and evaluation mechanisms for measuring the effectiveness of CT-related security assistance. There are no standard guidelines for determining the goals of CT security assistance programs, particularly partner capacity-building training programs, or for assessing how these programs fit into broader U.S. foreign policy objectives. And there are few metrics for measuring the effectiveness of these programs once they are being implemented. 

Drawing upon field research in two recipient nations of U.S. CT security assistance – Jordan and Kenya – as well as interviews and workshops with U.S. government officials and nongovernmental experts, this study attempts to address some of these challenges. The research leads to three central conclusions:

U.S. CT security assistance should devote more programming, resources, time, and effort to improving the capacity of law enforcement and internal security instead of focusing almost exclusively on building military CT capabilities for partner nations. 

In both Kenya and Jordan, the overwhelming preponderance of U.S. CT security assistance goes toward addressing external threats posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and al-Shabaab, respectively. The threats from these groups also manifest inside these countries as a result of the radicalization of vulnerable populations. Yet considerably less energy and fewer resources are focused on ensuring that the internal security services in Jordan and Kenya address such threats effectively, or protect and do not marginalize or alienate vulnerable populations. The United States’ recent increased emphasis on countering violent extremism (CVE) at the local level is a welcome step, but it is critical that implementation of this strategy is paired with other programs intended to buttress partners’ internal security and improve the behavior of their security services. Such efforts should include programs intended to build the institutional capacity of partners’ ministries of the interior, professionalize personnel, and improve their ability to conduct planning and coordination. The United States does not need to reinvent the wheel. There is much to learn from other international donors and local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that are already working in this space.

The USG should develop a common standard for metrics throughout the interagency to ensure CT security assistance programs are monitored and evaluated based on outcomes, not just inputs and outputs. 

The State Department’s (DoS) current protocol for assessment, monitoring, and evaluation (AM&E) is overly decentralized, and other agencies have yet to develop robust AM&E programs. Efforts underway at the Department of Defense (DoD) to develop a systemic protocol for assessment, monitoring, and evaluation of security assistance programs represent a step in the right direction, but it will be important to ensure this program is interoperable with others in the interagency. The first step is ensuring that every agency involved in CT security assistance has a functional AM&E program in place. As it institutes these systems, the USG should ensure that departments are sharing best practices and lessons learned with one another and also mining the knowledge of local nongovernmental project implementers, who often have the greatest experience dealing with the issue of measurement. To support this effort, a larger share of the security assistance budget should be dedicated to monitoring and evaluation. The internationally accepted best practice is to devote 3 percent to 5 percent of any program budget to AM&E.

Efforts to develop better AM&E protocols must recognize that this process is not something that begins once a program has been implemented or completed. 

Effective AM&E starts during the planning process. All programs must be guided by clearly delineated objectives that are specific, measurable, and achievable within an identified time frame. Moreover, any program should illustrate how achieving these objectives will advance wider U.S. counterterrorism goals, how they align with other relevant USG programs, and how they may complement or conflict with broader USG policy objectives. Some problems may be insurmountable, and this makes being upfront about the theory of change even more important in order to avoid squandering limited resources, time, attention, and political capital. Articulating the theory of change at the outset and the time scale necessary to execute it, is also critical for overcoming the tendency to focus heavily on near-term objectives that are more easily measured than on long-term reforms that might be more consequential. In cases where it might take years to realize a major return on investment, identifying milestones along the way provides a mechanism for measuring progress and ensuring the program remains on track.

Overview of U.S. Counterterrorism Security Assistance

International cooperation has always been a critical element of counterterrorism, but it became considerably more important after 9/11. Security assistance is a central component of the U.S. counterterrorism strategy to incentivize cooperation and build the capacity of partner nations to conduct their own operations against terrorist groups. Building partner capacity (BPC) became the catchall term for a wide array of security assistance programs developed for this purpose. The nucleus of the BPC effort began in Iraq, where the escalating insurgency led the Bush administration to devise a military plan that would train the Iraqi army to assume responsibility for security as quickly as possible. U.S. officials emphasized the mantra that as “Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.” As al Qaeda expanded and the terrorist threat spread during the last decade, building the capacity of partners outside Iraq and Afghanistan became increasingly important. Congress created a spate of new authorities and funding streams to meet the growing demand for assistance to build up partner forces so they could counter security threats at home and contribute to international missions. 

The Obama administration made working with and through partner nations a cornerstone of its counterterrorism strategy. This approach was informed by awareness that unilateral, large-footprint military operations were neither effective nor sustainable when it came to achieving U.S. counterterrorism objectives. These types of efforts have proved tremendously expensive, both in political and fiscal terms, and put considerable strain on the U.S. military. Large American deployments are also a potential recruiting tool for terrorist organizations and can act as a catalyst for opposing militant groups to unite. Burden sharing on counterterrorism reduces the costs and risks for the United States and bolsters international stability more generally.

Moreover, while the consequences of terrorism are often global and have a direct effect on the United States, many of the sources of terrorist violence are driven by local security and governance vacuums and social, political, and economic conditions that enable the creation of safe havens and lead to radicalization. In these instances, it is usually a local partner – not the United States – that will have the best understanding of the local landscape and can be most effective in addressing the problem, with the United States providing appropriate training, support, and enablers. The United States still has a critical role to play in this dynamic. Indeed, it is currently leading the international coalition against the Islamic State and working “by, with, and through” its regional and local partners.

Congress and the executive branch worked together to create a number of different funding streams and authorities related to CT-oriented security assistance. Early in the post-9/11 period, the primary CT security assistance authority was Section 1206 of the 2006 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). By the 2015 NDAA, Section 1206 was codified as 10 U.S.C. 2282. Under this authority, the secretary of defense was authorized to implement security assistance programs that train and equip foreign military and maritime security forces. The purpose of the 1206/2282 authority was to support U.S. CT missions globally in military and stability missions by improving the capacity of foreign partner forces to support these missions. Through 2014 a total of $2.2 billion in 1206 spending has funded bilateral train-and-equip programs in at least 40 countries, providing operational assistance (surveillance and reconnaissance systems, small arms, rifles, night vision sights) and logistic support (vehicles, aircraft, and limited maintenance). There is now a $350 million a year authorization for 10 U.S.C. 2282 funding though additional monies can also be transferred for use under the authority.

In 2012, Congress established the Global Security Contingency Fund (GSCF) through Section 1207 of the NDAA. The GSCF was authorized through fiscal year (FY) 2017 as a pilot program for similar efforts as those under 2282, but with State Department in the lead and DoD authorized to transfer up to $200 million a year into the fund. 

Nevertheless, both 1206 (now 2282) and GSCF authorities were considered to be insufficient for unexpected crises, which led to the creation of the Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund (CTPF). The CTPF is designed to provide interagency funding to support emergency security assistance programs to partner country security forces and other groups fighting terrorism. The funding provided under the CTPF is to assist these state and non-state partners to conduct, support, or facilitate CT missions and crisis response, and includes the distribution of CTPF funds focused on U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) and U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) areas of responsibility. CTPF funds are disbursed under other authorities, and thus far all of the funds ($1.1 billion in FY 2016 and a request for $1 billion for FY 2017) have been distributed under 1206/2282.

The proliferation of authorities has created confusion about the connective tissue between individual programs and how they should be deployed to achieve broader strategic effects. The Senate version of the 2017 NDAA that passed in spring 2016 sought to address this issue. It includes a number of new proposals to modify and expand several existing DoD authorities, including 2282, and to allow for potentially greater DoD engagement with foreign internal security forces. Proponents argue that these reforms will make security assistance more efficient and effective, while opponents are concerned that it may marginalize the State Department’s role and increasingly present the U.S. military as the face of U.S. security sector engagement overseas, including with non-military partners.

Challenges Associated with U.S. Counterterrorism Assistance

Having a meaningful impact through CT-related security assistance is no easy task. By definition, CT security assistance programs are frequently implemented in difficult environments in countries that are either unstable as a result of internal socio-political conflict or under threat due to the ability of a terrorist organization to find popular support among a subset of the local population. In many contexts, the ability of U.S. CT security assistance programming to have a positive impact on the behavior of partner security forces engaged in CT operations is likely to be determined more by local socio-political, economic, and governance conditions than by the agency of U.S. implementers and by the interests of those partners. Even understanding these caveats, several U.S. government-commissioned studies have criticized how the United States implements CT-related security assistance programs. 

The first of these criticisms is that there is no standard guideline for determining the goals of CT security assistance programs, particularly partner capacity-building training, or how these programs fit into broader U.S. foreign policy objectives. Moreover, in many of these complex cases the United States has interests beyond purely counterterrorism, and those interests often impact decisions on aid and overall assessments of the situation. If specific objectives are not outlined at the start as part of a clearly delineated theory of change for the use of assistance, then these other interests tend to bias and confuse decisionmaking. It is precisely in these highly complex situations that the U.S. government needs to be clearer about the order of its priorities and ensure that its efforts will contribute to longer-term objectives. However, this often does not happen. Presidential Policy Directive 23 (PPD 23), issued by the Obama administration in 2013, was a first step toward providing implementers and policymakers with guidance on how to adjudicate among competing goals and timelines. But these efforts are still nascent and inconsistently applied.

Instead, there is often a heavy bias toward near-term policy objectives such as improving military interoperability, building tactical military capacity, or securing other forms of immediate counterterrorism assistance and increasing U.S. influence with the governments of partner countries. These seemingly more-urgent priorities come at the expense of important long-term issues such as the achievement of viable political outcomes in unstable countries, the professionalization of security forces, and respect for human rights, which are all key to the long-term success of counterterrorism strategies. In some cases these near-term interests may be judged more important than long-term professionalization and stabilization, but these tradeoffs are rarely analyzed or discussed before security assistance decisions are made. Such analysis is essential, since in other cases near-term and long-term imperatives are compatible, but the planning process fails to connect the two or identify milestones for long-term goals that can help implementers stay on track. 

The second criticism is that once a decision is made to provide support, there is little follow-up evaluation of whether programs are achieving the goals for which they were designed. Critically, there are no standard metrics for assessing the effectiveness and impact of CT security assistance programs. While some monitoring and evaluation is conducted it is not applied or used consistently, and there is no routine evaluation stage in the policy process across departments. Many agencies implementing programs intended to realize PPD 23 objectives do not have sophisticated AM&E systems. The State Department’s AM&E protocol is very decentralized and therefore implemented inconsistently across the agency. The Department of Defense, which had no program in place historically, is currently designing policy mechanisms and an organizational architecture to assess, monitor, and evaluate all security cooperation programs in a more centralized fashion. The current plan calls for delineating objectives for security cooperation at the outset, along with clear metrics for assessing both inputs and outcomes. It is too early to assess the efficacy of this effort, which has not yet been implemented. It is also unclear precisely how the DoD monitoring effort will align with programs at the State Department. The absence of a unified rubric could create complications and mismeasurement, especially if DoD efforts do not account for nondefense issues, such as addressing poor governance. A principal aim of this report is to provide insights from recipient countries to inform the efforts underway in the U.S. government and reinforce the importance of developing a comprehensive AM&E effort that pays attention to balance between short-term security issues and long-term goals. 

Summary Recommendations for Improving U.S. Counterterrorism Security Assistance

Put More Focus on Internal Threats

  • Devote more to improving the capacity, capabilities, and professionalism of domestic security services and internal security instead of focusing almost  singularly on external threats.
  • Internal security assistance efforts should be led by the State Department with congressional support and coordination with relevant USG security agencies. 
  • Leverage the lessons learned by local and international NGOs that have been the most effective implementers of this type of assistance.
  • Follow through on the new Countering Violent Extremism strategy’s call to “empower and amplify locally credible voices” while lowering the U.S. government’s profile and increasing transparency.
  • Assistance for border security should remain a focus as this is an area where the United States has been particularly effective.

Invest in AM&E and Develop Metrics That Measure Outputs

  • The National Security Council (NSC) should coordinate the development of a set of shared interagency metrics for measuring the success of CT security  assistance programs. 
  • Metrics should be designed to measure outcomes rather than simply verifying inputs and to look at usage rates, retention rates, exercises, and surveys as measurements.
  • Three percent to five percent of the cost of each program should be dedicated to assessment, monitoring, and evaluation, significantly increasing current investments.
  • Mine the knowledge of local private and nongovernmental project implementers when designing evaluation criteria. 
  • Make programming more transparent by releasing details of objectives, recipient agencies, and funding levels to enable outside monitoring and evaluation.

Effective AM&E Must Start With Clear Objectives Upfront

  • Have clear and realistic objectives upfront and be prepared to invest the necessary resources in determining whether the program works. 
  • Clearly distinguish between objectives designed to build capacity and promote reform, versus objectives such as relationship building or securing access. 
  • In the planning phase, identify a realistic time frame in which the United States seeks to realize its objectives.

The full report is available online.

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  1. “Full Text: George Bush’s Iraq Speech,” The Guardian, June 28, 2005,
  2. Ryan Lizza, “The Consequentialist: How the Arab Spring remade Obama’s foreign policy,” The New Yorker (May 2, 2011),
  3. Nina M. Serafino, “The Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund (CTPF) Proposal: Questions for Congress” (Congressional Research Service (CRS) Insights, July 14, 2014),; and Nina M. Serafino, “Security Assistance and Cooperation: Shared Responsibility of the Departments of State and Defense,” R44444 (Congressional Research Service, May 26, 2016),
  4. Serafino, “The Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund (CTPF) Proposal: Questions for Congress.”
  5. Serafino, “Security Assistance and Cooperation: Shared Responsibility of the Departments of State and Defense.”
  6. Bolko J. Skorupski and Nina M. Serafino, “DOD Security Cooperation: An Overview of Authorities and Issues,” R44602 (Congressional Research Service, August 23, 2016),
  7. Janine Davidson and Emerson Brooking, “How the Overseas Contingency Operations Fund Works – and Why Congress Wants to Make it Bigger,” Defense in Depth blog on, June, 16, 2015,
  8. Serafino, “The Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund (CTPF) Proposal: Questions for Congress.”
  9. Skorupski and Serafino, “DOD Security Cooperation: An Overview of Authorities and Issues.”
  10. Ibid.
  11. Nina M. Serafino, “Security Assistance Reform: ‘Section 1206’ Background and Issues for Congress,” RS22855 (Congressional Research Service, December 8, 2014),; and Andrew J. Shapiro, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, testimony to the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs, Committee on Appropriations, U.S. House of Representatives, April 14, 2010,
  12. Phillip Carter, “Why foreign troops can’t fight our fights,” The Washington Post, October 2, 2015,
  13. Nina M. Serafino, June S. Beittel, Lauren Ploch Blanchard, and Liana Rosen, “‘Leahy Law’ Human Rights Provisions and Security Assistance: Issue Overview,” R43361 (Congressional Research Service, January 29, 2014),; U.S. Government Accountability Office, Security Assistance: Evaluations Needed to Determine Effectiveness of U.S. Aid to Lebanon’s Security Forces, GAO-13-289 (March 2013),; and “Report on Security Capacity Building” (U.S. Department of State International Security Advisory Board, January 7, 2013),
  14. This dilemma is not limited to CT security assistance, but is also present for security assistance programs more broadly, and with countries throughout the world. In the context of CT security assistance, U.S. support for the Nigerian military to confront the threat from the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP, also known as Boko Haram) provides an excellent example of this dilemma. Although not the subject of the case studies investigated by this report, U.S. security assistance to Nigeria, and the challenges of working with the Nigerian military to combat ISWAP in the context of Nigeria’s complicated socio-political and socio-economic conflicts, is instructive. See Lauren Ploch Blanchard and Tomas F. Husted, “Nigeria: Current Issues and U.S. Policy,” RL33964 (Congressional Research Service, March 11, 2016),
  15. Please find the full list of endnotes in the report PDF.


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