Testimony of Susan Reichle, Counselor, before the Senate Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to provide a written statement on behalf of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) on the role of development in preventing violent extremism. It is a privilege to be able to inform the current debate on an issue the development community has discussed for decades. There are few issues more important to our national security than countering the rapidly growing scourge of violence perpetrated on innocent civilians by terrorist organizations.

Violent extremism is not necessarily tied to a particular religion, ideology, or set of political beliefs, although there is consistency in the extreme ideology propagated and exploited by various terrorist organizations including Da’esh to justify their violence. What has emerged in recent years is a movement of followers adhering to beliefs of intolerance and disregard for life, attracting new followers whose numbers are growing each year.

Just as we have faced other global threats with defense, diplomacy and development, so, too, must we use these tools to prevent violent extremism. Understanding the underlying “drivers” and identifying effective responses to address the root causes of the spread of violent extremism is critical.

USAID is in a unique position as the United States Government’s lead development agency to address these underlying drivers. It is not an “either” “or” question of which tool to use, but rather a matter of effectively utilizing all of the elements of what we know to work. With that said, USAID’s efforts are essential but not sufficient. We must engage in a comprehensive approach in order to defeat this growing threat.

The International Response

The international community is galvanizing around the importance of prevention as a critical element in this sequenced approach. Just last week in Geneva, policymakers gathered to discuss the United Nations Plan of Action on preventing violent extremism. Participants noted that while military force is highly effective when it comes to defeating an individual or an army, we cannot militarily defeat an idea. For that, we have to expand how we are looking at the problems driving the underlying issues.

USAID is working with international partners, including the World Bank, the United Nations Development Program, the European Union, and the United Kingdom, to establish and expand the network of donors focused on countering violent extremism and coordinating prevention programming. This forum to create a Community of Practice will allow donor organizations to learn from each other and to better coordinate programs. We also expect to develop voluntary guidelines for the implementation of countering violent extremism programs. While initially comprised of donors, we expect civil society and other partners to join as well. The Community of Practice will become an informal body for coordination for the donors and practitioners of countering violent extremism.

USAID is also engaged in regular discussions with the European Union’s Development Commission on coordinating programming in Africa and the Middle East. Through regular visits and coordination at the headquarters level, we are promoting greater cooperation at the country level.

USAID Policy Approach

USAID is first and foremost a development Agency. Our teams are well placed in host countries to analyze local dynamics, assess potential partners, and develop and implement programs to address development challenges. USAID has been engaged in prevention-oriented CVE programming for approximately a decade. Our approach is rooted in analytical tools that identify drivers of violent extremism and elements of resilience in communities, and the design of evidence-based programming. USAID implements programs aimed at increasing access to opportunity, improving local and national governance, promoting dialogue and social cohesion, and mitigating conflict so as to improve the conditions and reduce the vulnerability of local communities to extremists.

Countering violent extremism refers to proactive actions to counter efforts by violent extremists to radicalize, recruit, and mobilize followers to violence and to address specific factors that facilitate violent extremist recruitment and radicalization to violence. This includes both disrupting the tactics used by violent extremists to attract new recruits to violence and building specific alternatives, narratives, capabilities, and resiliencies in targeted communities and populations to reduce the risk of radicalization and recruitment to violence.

USAID’s work has evolved over the past decade, and continues to adapt to the rapidly changing environment. We have learned that successful programs need to be part of a broad, comprehensive effort, coordinated with the State Department, other donors, and most importantly, with local actors on the ground. While our primary mission is to partner to end extreme poverty, promote inclusive growth, and foster resilient democratic societies, we clearly recognize many of these underlying drivers of violent extremism can be addressed through an integrated approach.

To further our efforts, as called for in the second Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), USAID is establishing a Secretariat for Countering Violent Extremism. The Secretariat will be an executive level body with reporting responsibilities to the Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance (DCHA) and to the Agency Counselor to ensure front office involvement. The Secretariat will work to elevate the efforts of the technical-level Countering Violent Extremism Steering Committee, which was established in 2011. The Secretariat will work with bureaus and USAID Missions around the globe to be a resource on best practices and to support in the development and execution of programs in USAID Missions.

In 2011, USAID issued a policy, The Development Response to Violent Extremism, informed by years of programming and analysis, and continually refined based on additional research. The policy categorized drivers of violent extremism generally as “push” and “pull” factors to better tailor USAID’s interventions.

Push factors create the opportunities for violent extremists to gain traction. They can emanate from institutional and societal failures, such as systematic and gross human rights violations, ungoverned or poorly governed spaces, political, economic or social marginalization, or endemic corruption and impunity. Such deficits — whether real or perceived, experienced directly or witnessed from afar — can make individuals or entire communities vulnerable to adopting violent extremist ideology or aligning with violent extremist groups. Pull factors, in contrast, help explain how adherents to violent extremism are able to attract recruits, appealing to people’s individual aspirations, such as those for material resources, economic and/or social status, spiritual guidance and purpose, adventure, friendship, or ideology, including through the use of the Internet and social media.

While the combination of factors is often specific to countries or even individual communities, we have learned that a whole-of-society approach is essential – in line with the conclusion of the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism one year ago. All parts of society must be engaged, including local governments, local NGOs, faith based leaders, the private sector and parents – frequently mothers – who are often the first to recognize signs of extremist behavior. The Summit also emphasized the need to focus on local solutions, which has been the approach taken by USAID for years.

Gender is also a critical element in addressing violent extremism. We must move beyond generalized assumptions about men and women based on common gender stereotypes, recognizing that gender norms for men and women manifest differently in various social, political, and economic contexts. For example, women are not only victims of violent extremism but can be both perpetrators and critical to prevention. As such, a nuanced and context-specific understanding of gender is needed to accurately diagnose the push and pull factors that drive both men and women to participate in violent extremism, a space which has been largely unaddressed in the research.

At the grassroots level, USAID-funded case study research on gender and countering violent extremism at the national level are underway - including two in depth assessments in the Middle East and two in North Africa. The research seeks to understand women’s participation in, motivations for, and roles in violent extremist organizations; the analysis will include broad recommendations on how policymakers might work to decrease women’s involvement in violent extremist organizations across the regions through programmatic interventions.

USAID's Prevention Response -- Analysis and Programming

USAID aims to prevent the spread of violent extremism through targeted efforts to promote good governance and the rule of law, respect for human rights, and sustainable, inclusive development, among other programs. Together with State, USAID is bringing its development expertise and more than a decade of experience in countering violent extremism programming to bear in precisely these environments—harnessing the full range of analytic tools to design, support, and measure programs that reduce the vulnerabilities of communities and build local capacity to resist extremist groups. This is an essential element of the Agency’s integrated approach, which begins with prevention.

We have developed the first-ever joint USAID and State Department strategy on preventing and countering violent extremism which embraces the principles and approaches in USAID’s CVE policy. This joint strategy addresses five key areas: 1)deepening international understanding of the drivers of violent extremism and mobilizing effective multilateral interventions; 2) assisting partner governments to adopt more effective policies and approaches to prevent the spread of violent extremism; 3)analyzing and designing development programs to reduce specific political and/or economic factors that contribute to community support for violent extremism in identifiable areas; 4)empowering and amplifying credible local voices that can change the perception of violent extremist groups; and 5) strengthening the capabilities of government and non-government actors to isolate, intervene and promote the rehabilitation and reintegration of individuals caught in the cycle of radicalization.

As an example of this collaboration, together with the Bureau for Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) at the State Department, we recently launched the Researching Solutions for Violent Extremism (RESOLVE) network. With an emphasis on supporting the work of local research, RESOLVE will engage policymakers, practitioners, and researchers to develop a better understanding of local drivers and effective responses.

Through work with CSO, we have identified several drivers of extremism:

  • State sponsored violence is highly correlated with the emergence of violent extremist organizations. Countries with above average levels of state sponsored terror double their risk of terrorists groups emerging. Additionally, low levels of political rights and civil liberties, constitute a significant predictor of increased levels of state-sponsored violence.
  • Survey data suggests that terrorists are no more likely to be poor or unemployed or come from poorer backgrounds. In fact, those who are extremely poor are significantly less likely to support violent extremism than those who are not extremely poor. In some cases, however, a negative outlook regarding personal economic conditions is associated with extremist violence.

USAID sponsored a series of CVE studies looking at the risk of home-grown threats by violent extremist groups in Central Asia and the role of Central Asians in supporting violent extremist organizations in Iraq and Syria. The latter study helped identify the radicalization of Central Asian labor migrants working in Russia as the key contributing factor. USAID is responding to this problem in several ways. In the Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan, USAID supports potential labor migrants by providing pre-departure orientations on legal rights and responsibilities in an effort to avoid potential legal problems, and by linking them with support networks in destination countries that provide services to isolated and disenchanted migrants at risk of radicalization. The program will also provide legal assistance, counseling, and job-referral services to returning migrants, particularly those whom Russia has banned for re-entry and are a key target of extremist recruitment. In Uzbekistan, which has the largest number of migrants in Russia, USAID mitigates the pull toward extremism and radicalization by providing key populations with agriculture-related employment opportunities, and provides returning migrants with reintegration services, legal support, counseling and referral services, vocational training, and linking them with potential employers.

Where the U.S. government has invested in diplomatic and developmental efforts to mitigate violence, we have seen success in reducing support for political violence and facilitating sustainable peace that is one of the key requirements to build community resilience and create conditions to address underlying drivers. In Niger, the USAID Peace through Development II project has reached 40 communities across the regions of Agadez, Diffa, Maradi, Tahoua, Tillaberri, Zinder and the capital district of Niamey. By producing and delivering original radio content aimed at countering extremist narratives that was broadcast across 33 partner stations, the program has reached over 1.7 million people from groups at‐ risk of violent extremism. The program has directly engaged nearly 100,000 people through civic education, moderate voice promotion and youth empowerment‐ themed events.

In Mali, where the rate of recruitment was particularly high during occupation by violent extremists in 2012, USAID conducted an assessment and piloted a program to reduce the isolation and marginalization of target communities. After fostering trust by responding to basic needs, the program quickly pivoted to activities that built ties between communities through things like soccer tournaments, dialogues, youth conferences. A social network analysis conducted during the program found that community integration had already increased by 11 percent and led, in particular, to more tolerant views on the rights and role of women in society and decreased favorable perceptions of armed groups, including al Qaeda-linked group MUJAO. So these programs can be effective, and we’ve seen it on the ground. In Iraq, new Mercy Corps research provides evidence that civil society building programs contributed to reduced support for ISIL and other extremist groups where citizens have an improved perception of the prospect of government efficacy.1 In Nigeria, community-led anti-recruitment narratives that expose the lies and hypocrisies of Boko Haram’s promises are successfully preventing youth from joining.2 The messengers of these counter recruitment campaigns are local youth themselves, community religious and traditional leaders, teachers, mothers, and local authorities.

USAID is operating similar programs in more than a dozen countries. Each program is targeted to address specific drivers of violent extremism. We are seeing incremental progress, but more robust efforts are needed. With the additional funding requested in FY 2017, USAID can expand the current portfolio of programs to better address drivers, and initiate new programs as the needs emerge.


While development programming alone cannot defeat violent extremism, it can have a decisive impact, especially when it is part of an integrated approach along with defense and diplomacy, informed by deep analysis of the root causes of extremism, and uses best practices to address these root causes. USAID is grateful for the strong bipartisan support and engagement of this Subcommittee, its staff, and other Congressional leaders. We are pleased to address any concerns or questions you may have. Thank you very much.

1. https://www.mercycorps.org/research-resources/investing-iraqs-peace-how-...

2 https://www.mercycorps.org/research-resources/motivations-and-empty-prom...

The Role of Development in Preventing Violent Extremism
Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations