Why do armed groups ever direct violent attacks against humanitarian organizations? While scholars have analyzed wartime violence against civilians, little research exists on violence against other noncombatants, like humanitarian organizations. Violence against aid workers, however, is common in wartime, with devastating consequences for civilians, who suffer when aid organizations respond by reducing services. This article argues that much of the violence against humanitarian organizations is strategic. By serving as substitute providers of public goods, aid organizations can bolster the government. Insurgents thus target aid workers in an effort to force them out of particular regions, undermining government support. To test this argument, we analyze variation in violence across space and time using an original panel dataset on attacks against aid workers in Afghanistan, 2008-2012. Despite aid organizations' attempts to remain neutral, we find evidence that insurgents strategically target aid workers in areas where their services likely strengthen government support.
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© The Author (2017). Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Studies Association. All rights reserved.