When Eckart Frahm, professor of Assyriology at Yale, received a call from Homeland Security with a request to come to New York to assess cuneiform tablets, he was intrigued by the opportunity to provide an assessment of the content and origins of these ancient artifacts.
Frahm, who is one of only a few hundred people worldwide who can accurately read cuneiform texts, was taken to an undisclosed location in the city, where he had about two and half days to study these texts in a warehouse in which they were being temporarily stored. Each tablet was about the size of a cell phone, and many were in a poor condition, with salt incrustations covering large portions of their surfaces.
The United States has spent billions of dollars in Afghanistan on economic interventions, such as job-training programs and direct cash payments, to counter violent extremism, but a new study casts doubt on the ability of these initiatives to reduce support for the Taliban or improve people’s economic condition.
The study, led by Yale political scientist Jason Lyall, is the first to test the effectiveness of economic aid programs in an active war zone. The researchers partnered with Mercy Corps, a global humanitarian and development organization, to evaluate a program that provided vocational training and unconditional cash payments to young men and women in Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city and the birthplace of the Taliban, where airstrikes, suicide bombings, and military operations occur regularly.
“We didn’t find any evidence to support the belief that insurgent support is driven by unemployment and poor job prospects,” said Lyall, associate professor of political science and director of Yale’s Political Violence FieldLab.