Is Your Washroom Breeding Bolsheviks?


Does bombing create insurgents? This is an issue we have never examined. We did examine whether rules of engagements influenced the outcome of insurgencies, and we have a chapter on it in my book (Chapter 9: “Rules of Engagement and Measurements of Brutality,” America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam, pages 83-95). What we ended up with was a series of charts, not quite statistically significant, that showed that as rules of engagement became stricter the chance of a counterinsurgent victory (blue win) increased, rising from around 40% for “unrestricted” rules of engagements to around 75% for “strict” rules of engagement. While this was a pattern, we are not sure there is direct cause-and-effect here, although we suspect so. It also showed that the “brutal” approach also generated counterinsurgent victory around 75% of the time. A sample chart from the book is shown below:


But probably more immediately relevant to the discussion is the work we did on “General Level of Brutality” (pages 92-95). In that analysis, we compared the outcome, a counterinsurgent victory (blue win) vice an insurgent victory (red win), to civilians killed per 100,000 population. We examined this for 40 insurgencies from 1948 to the present (at the time it was 2009). What we showed was:

  1. Low civilian loss rates (less than 8.00 killed) results in 14% red wins (14 cases)
  2. Medium civilian loss rates (8.91 – 56.54) results in 38% red wins (21 cases)
  3. High civilian loss rates (115.54 – 624.16) results in 60% red wins (5 cases)

Or conversely:

  1. Low civilian loss rates (less than 8.00 killed) results in 79% blue wins (14 cases)
  2. Medium civilian loss rates (8.91 – 56.54) results in 43% blue wins (21 cases)
  3. High civilian loss rates (115.54 – 624.16) results in 20% blue wins (5 cases)

For the total of 40 cases, 33% result in red wins, 15% in “gray” outcome (ongoing or drawn), and 52% in a blue win. We put the data into a three-by-three matrix and tested it to Fisher’s exact test and obtained a two-sided p-value of 0.1135. For the non-statisticians, what this means is that there is an 89% chance that this relationship is not due to chance. When we remove the “gray” results from the table, then the two-sided p-value is 0.0576. This is even more significant. The data used is in the book if anyone wishes to go back and re-test or re-categorize it.

Our conclusions were:

“Therefore, we tentatively conclude that increased levels of brutality favor the insurgency when the number of civilians killed each year averages more than 9 per 100,000 in the population.”

We then expanded that conclusion:

“The inverse is that it is to the long-term advantage of counterinsurgent forces to limit damage to civilian populations, whether caused by their own or by insurgent actions. This means tightly controlled rules of engagement and probably requires a strictly limited use of artillery and airpower. It also means properly protecting the host population, which would probably require the deployment of significant security forces as part of a total counterinsurgent force.”

When one compares these results to the desire to add more ordnance to the effort to defeat ISIL, and the stated opinion by some that we should also target their families, then one wonders how effective such an air campaign will be. Will it really attrite and reduce an insurgency, or will the insurgency grow at the same or faster rate than they are attrited? This is clearly something that needs to be studied further (and analytically) before we make it a matter of policy. This is assuming that one is comfortable with the moral implications of such a policy.

Defeating an Insurgency by Air

In the past couple of party nomination debates of 2015, the subject of bombing ISIL has come up several times. It seems that the candidates are determined to outdo each other in tonnage dropped and destruction wrought. I am not aware of any systematic analysis of the effects of airpower on an insurgency (which in itself is a significant observation). My gut reaction is that air power is just part of the equation.

The airplane was first invented in 1903. They were first used in war in 1911 and starting in 1915, the airplane went through an incredible development as a weapon of war. World War I (1914-1918) established the airplane as a weapon in war and World War II (1939-1945) showed just how much death and destruction it could produce.

The airplane was first extensively used as a counterinsurgent tool by the United States in Nicaragua in 1927-1933, where it played a major role. Using de Havilland DH-4 biplanes, they provided reconnaissance against the insurgency led by Augusto Sandino and provided air support for the U.S. Marines. Augusto Sandino actually declared war against the United States in June 1927, an early case of an individual or head of a revolutionary movement declaring war on a country. Sandino served as the inspiration for the Sandinistas of the 1970s and 1980s, a Nicaraguan insurgency movement that is still a major political party in Nicaragua. At the Battle of Ocotal on 16 July 1927, the Sandinistas suffered over 150 people killed and wounded. This fight included five DH-4s armed with machineguns and four 25-pound bombs conducting dive bombing attacks in support of ground troops. As a result of this slaughter from the air and ground, the Sandinistas never did massed attacks again.

Since that time, there have certainly been well over 100 insurgencies that involved air power (we have not put together a master list). I am struggling to try to think of a single insurgency that was defeated by airpower, primarily defeated by airpower, or even seriously undermined by airpower.

Two cases do come to mind. First is Vietnam, which has the distinction of being the perhaps the bloodiest guerilla war ever. It also has the distinction of being the counterinsurgency effort that used the most airpower and dropped the most bombs. Certainly airpower played a major part in the war, with the helicopter almost becoming the symbol for the war (like in the opening scene of the movie Apocalypse Now). Clearly airpower played a big part in halting the 1972 offensive by the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and the Viet Cong (VC). Still, we all know the final results of the Vietnam War. It is certainly not a case of an insurgency being defeated by airpower.

The second case was the initial U.S. intervention in Afghanistan in 2001, where we provided airpower to an insurgency. I would have to think long and hard to find another case of an insurgency having any significant air power. In this case, we started bombing government targets in Afghanistan on 7 October 2001. This process continued for almost four weeks, resulting in the quote from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on 9 October 2001 “We’re not running out of targets, Afghanistan is!” We then switched our air support in early November to providing more direct support for the tens of thousands of allied insurgent forces in the north, with the Afghani Army collapsing quickly. On 14 November, the “Northern Alliance” marched into Kabul and by the middle of December they had effective control of the entire country. Although the Taliban dominated government had folded and the Taliban was on the run, they have since returned to carry on an insurgency in Afghanistan. Again, this is certainly not a case of an insurgency being defeated by airpower, as the airpower actually supported the insurgency. It also shows the limitation of a pure air campaign vice one in support of ground troops.

So, we are left to state that we cannot think of a single insurgency that was defeated by airpower, primarily defeated by airpower, or even seriously undermined by airpower. Perhaps there is a case we are missing. It is probably safe to say that if it has never successfully been done in over a hundred insurgencies over the last hundred years, then it is something not likely to occur now.


Iraq/Syria Intervention Scenarios

There are a lot of potential variables to consider in developing a casualty estimate for a potential large-scale intervention. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have floated various proposals to deploy 10,000 U.S. ground combat troops to both Iraq and Syria, with the most recent calling for 10,000 in Syria along with 10,000 Arab allies.

It is not clear if McCain, Graham, or Obama are assuming a U.S.-led ground offensive to be followed by the withdrawal of U.S. troops, or a ground offensive and an open-ended stability/peacekeeping mission. Nor is it clear if they assume an offensive against Daesh only or an attack on the Assad regime as well.

Potential ground offensive scenarios:

1. 10-20,000 U.S. advisors only in Iraq and Syria
2. 10,000 U.S. troops leading a ground offensive against Daesh in Iraq
3. 10,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and 10,000 U.S. troops in Syria leading a ground offensive against Daesh only
4. 10,000 U.S. troops in Syria and 10,000 Arab coalition troops leading a ground offensive against Daesh only
5. 10,000 U.S. troops in Syria and 10,000 Arab coalition troops leading a ground offensive against Daesh and the Assad regime

A long-term stability and support operation in Syria would almost certainly require more than 10,000 U.S. and 10,000 Arab coalition troops, even if it were confined to areas currently held by Daesh, and even more if extended into former Assad regime areas.

President Obama’s Casualty Estimates

Well, looks like President Obama is giving out casualty estimates for a potential intervention.

That used to be our job.

His estimate was for “sending significant ground forces back to the Middle East”

The results were:

1. “…could conceivably result in the deaths of 100 American soldiers every month.”
2. “…could take up to $10 billion a month…”
3. “….and leave as many as 500 troops wounded every month in addition to those killed…”

“Mr. Obama explained that his refusal to redeploy large numbers of troops to the region was rooted in the grim assumption that the casualties and costs would rival the worst of the Iraq war. “

Clearly this was a worst case situation based upon some study or analysis done. Do not know who did the study and I not think the study is in the public domain.

This is clearly just applying the Iraq War model to the current situation. In the case of Iraq, we had over 100,000 troops deployed and were directly and often by ourselves engaged with a major insurgency. This was generating 100 deaths on some months. This is 1200 a year. We lost people at that rate for four years in Iraq (2004 = 849, 2005 = 846, 2006 – 823, 2007 – 904).

On the other hand, it appear that most people talking intervention in Syria and Iraq appear to be discussing training missions with some ground support. I do not think anyone is seriously talking about putting a 100,000 troops back in. I think most people are talking about 10,000 to 20,000 troops primarily as trainers for the Syrian insurgents, the Kurds and the Iraq government. This is in effect what we currently have in Afghanistan. Our post surge losses there are more like 100 a year (2013 = 127, 2014 = 55, 2015 = 16).

Needless to say, loss rates are tied to the force size. A force fully engaged of 20,000 is not going to suffer the same number of losses as a force fully engaged of 100,000. And, we are looking at missions that are primarily training and support, which should suffer losses less than forces that are fully engaged.

Of course, The Dupuy Institute did a casualty estimate for a peacekeeping force of 20,000 for Bosnia, and we have done a casualty estimate for major counterinsurgency force of 100,000+ for Iraq. An estimate for a training and support mission of 20,000 people would be much lower than our estimate for Iraq.

Welcome to Mystics & Statistics

Welcome all to the Mystics & Statistics blog. It is a blog intended to specifically look at quantitative historical analysis. While we have a strong interest in history, our interest it not just to record facts and figures, or to study history for history’s sake, but our interest is two-fold: 1) to be able quantify and analyze history so we can establish what we actually know and understand beyond dates and events, and 2) to be able to use that analysis to address present problems. In effect, we want to be able to use history, as opposed to just study it.

In many respects, this has always been the work that The Dupuy Institute and its predecessor organizations have been doing since 1962. But, because of the nature of our customers and the work we have done, it has always been narrowly defined to primarily addressing military and defense issues. While this will probably remain the focus of the blog due to backgrounds of the principal posters, we hope to actually expand this to some extent to be able the address other issues outside of defense. What we are interested in is quantitative historical analysis of any type. We do not think there is another blog that addresses this.

I will not attempt to define what quantitative historical analysis is. This is similar to econometrics, which relies heavily on historical trends to analyze economics. In fact, economics is the most quantified of the social sciences, and it has certainly helped make the discipline the most rigorous and useful of the social sciences. There is a discipline out there called “cliometrics” which is defined by Wikipedia as “systematic application of economic theory, econometric techniques, and other formal or mathematical methods to the study of history (especially, social and economic history). It is a quantitative (as opposed to qualitative or ethnographic) approach to economic history.” Our work is also related to operations research. In fact, the British operational research community recognizes a sub-discipline called “historical analysis.” There is a brief Wikipedia article on “quantitative history,” but they really do not describe what we do, and we have been doing it for decades. So what we are looking at historical work that is similar to economics, econometrics, cliometrics, operations research, historical analysis, quantitative history and quantitative social science.

Hopefully, with this blog we will be able to demonstrate some of the work we have been doing, some of the analysis we would like to pursue, and with the help of the guest bloggers, expand this examination past the parochial interest of the principal posters and perhaps lead this blog into areas of more general applicability and usefulness.


Chris Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence
Executive Director and President
The Dupuy Institute