Lessons learned from Danish engagement in Afghanistan 2001-2014

Danish engagement in Afghanistan has been Denmark’s largest integrated effort in a fragile state to date, with political, military and development instruments working together, at both planning and execution stages.

Danish Parliament

Danish Parliament

On 9th June, Landell Mills took part in a public conference at the Danish Parliament to present the conclusions of a study, carried out by its team of researchers between May 2015 and April 2016: Lessons Identified 2001-2014: Development Cooperation in Afghanistan (Part II).  The report was part of a wider study on lessons learned from integrated Danish efforts in Afghanistan, coordinated by the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS). The study was divided into three parts covering different aspects of Danish engagement in Afghanistan:

Lessons Identified 2001-2014: Development Cooperation in Afghanistan 

Lessons Identified 2001-2014: Development Cooperation in Afghanistan 

Development Cooperation in Afghanistan

Landell Mills’ study, led by Nicole Ball, concluded that Denmark has actively promoted agreed international principles for development co-operation including ownership, state-building, gender equality and human rights protection and recognition of linkages between political, security and development objectives. Denmark has had to navigate the difficult waters of intense strategic interest, limited capacity and reach of state institutions, increasingly entrenched corruption, and multiple lines of conflict  all within the context of a profound lack of trust between state and citizen and a deteriorating security environment.  Key lessons from the Danish experience that were highlighted in the study are:

  • The importance of an integrated approach to strategic objectives, shared by all relevant actors (political, development and security).
  • The need to select the most appropriate mix of development tools and approaches, in light of a careful assessment of the potential impact on security, corruption and political relationships.
  • The importance of a deep understanding of the context (particularly the political process) when fostering ownership of state-building.
  • The need for a TA model that focusses on capacity transfer, instead of doing the job with the risk of creating a parallel civil service and greasing patronage and graft dynamics. 

Prominent political figures took part in the event, including the Danish Foreign Minister, the Danish Defense Minister, the Afghan Deputy Foreign Minister and the EU Ambassador to Afghanistan, as well as a panel of MPs from Danish political parties supporting engagement in Afghanistan. Representatives of civil society, the press, the armed forces and the development community were also present and participated actively.

Panel of Mps

Panel of Mps

The political relevance of the event and its primary objective of accountability to the Danish people brought up a vigorous debate. A number of matters were discussed including:

  • The nature and purpose of the lessons learned format (as opposed to an evaluation), with some MPs regarding it as a useful instrument for future engagement in FCAS, and others stressing the need for comprehensive and politically-driven studies, that set the basis for a more in-depth debate on the implications of taking part in international conflicts.
  • The issue of corruption and the use of Danish tax payers’ funds.
  • The risk that CIMIC projects pose to humanitarian and development organisations. Because these projects are implemented by military units, the boundaries between civil and military activities can become blurred, putting humanitarian staff in danger.

In summary, the conference was a great opportunity to foster dialogue between representatives of the Danish people, academia, the military and the development community on how best to support fragile and conflict-affected states.

For more information download study here: