The Statistical Irrelevance of American SIGACT Data: Iraq Surge Analysis Reveals Reality

Joshua Thiel. Small Wars Journal, 12 April 2011.
http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/journal/docs-temp/732-thiel1.pdf

Excerpt:

Maneuver warfare at its core is a mechanistic endeavor and fits with a corresponding necessity of top-down hierarchies. Conversely, counterinsurgency is a more ambiguous environment that varies in its complexity and context; it is the chess match of war. It is different in every locale and can cover the entire spectrum of war simultaneously. Consequently, counterinsurgency is difficult to put on a bumper sticker, to trademark as a catch phrase, or sell to a population and their representatives. In 2006 the United States (U.S.) public’s perception of success or failure of the Iraqi counterinsurgency strategy was concentrated around the concept of massing combat power in time and space, often called the “The Surge.” The term, “The Surge,” condensed a new counterinsurgency strategy into a simple and quantifiable slogan for the sound bite culture surrounding current affairs in the modern world. Unfortunately, counterinsurgency is more complex than “add more and then you win.”

Comment by Gian Gentile:

Joshua said this at the end of the piece:

“…in Afghanistan in 2011, will the victor once again write the history by touting the Afghanistan troop surge of 2010-2011 rather than the decisive operational changes.”

What evidence, I mean hard evidence (and beyond what officers who were part of the Surge recall)that there was a “decisive operational change.”? How much “decisive” operational change can there be in an area security mission where combat forces are dispersed widely and operate in a decentralized manner? This operational framework was in place in Iraq from spring of 2003 on. The answer is that there was not a decisive change in the operational framework. Oh to be sure there were some tweaks made here and there, a few more outposts here and there, but by and large it remained the same.

Unfortunately a narrative has been constructed that posits that a savior General named Petraeus came on board, reinvented his field army operationally and combined with an increase of troops was the primary cause of the lowering of violence. This is a chimera.

Yet folks, especially us in the Army who have spilled blood in these places, want to believe that what happens or doesnt happen is because of us and what we do or dont do, or because of savior generals riding onto the scene.

Yet the foreign policy elite (and many military leaders) in this country love this narrative and want it to stick because it places emphasis and criticism on the mechanics of doing these wars of intervention and state building and away from the strategy and policy that put them into place. Since success in these wars and conflicts are simply a matter of getting the right number of troops on the ground with the right tactics and with the savior general, then they can be won again and again.

As senior Army generals in Afghanistan argue “the right inputs are finally in place,” so too are we already seeing calls in certain quarters for bog in Libya.

But in Iraq it was neither the increase in troops as part of the Surge (as Joshua effectively argues) nor was it a decisive change in operational framework (as he incorrectly asserts) and instead the lowering of violence had to do with other more critical conditions (the spread of the Anbar awakening, the Shia militia stand-down, the physical seperation of Baghdad into sectarian districts) occurring.

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