Islamic State Fighter Estimates for Mosul

An article just quoted an estimate for the number of Islamic State fighters in and around Mosul: Retaking Mosul

They estimate that “IS fighters in Mosul, meanwhile, vary from a few thousand to “not more than 10,000.” according to the coalition.”

They also note that the current population of Mosul is estimated at between 500,000 and one million. Also: “Al-Hashimi, the analyst, estimated retaking Mosul would require 80,000 men, of whom 15,000 are expected to come from the government-sanctioned Shiite militias.’

Also note: “An official…said there was not yet a detailed plan for retaking Mosul. “for now, the plan is simply that Mosul is next.'”

Anyhow, estimating the size of an insurgency or irregular force is somewhat of a challenge. Part of the challenge is that a significant percent (the majority?) of the force and the support personnel for the force is not “full-time”….so to say. They are people that are activated irregularly and as needed. I ended up with an entire chapter in my book America’s Modern Wars on estimating insurgent force size. In the end, I concluded that you are probably best estimating the force size based upon their levels of activity (incidents occurred and people killed) compared to other insurgencies. This did produce estimates higher than the official U.S. DOD estimates for Iraq and Afghanistan. In retrospect, it appear our estimates were closer to reality.

Of course, all these “part-time” and “casual” insurgents disappear back into the population when you occupy an area and are available to be called upon again.

Population around Mosul

Mosul is a big prize. The Islamic State is fundamentally different without this city. A few population stats pulled from this article: Up to One Million Could Flee Mosul

1. “An estimated 3 million people live under Islamic State rule in Iraq” (plus they control significant territory and population in Syria).

2. Mosul has 1.2-1.4 million

3. Another 825,000 live in the Nineveh plain and provinces of Kirkuk and Salhuddin

4. 250,000 are in Anbar province

The Nineveh plains are to the north and east of Mosul. Kirkuk and Salhuddin provinces are to the south and southeast of Mosul. So if there is a successful campaign to take Mosul (and we have kind of been waiting for one since June 2014), then we are looking at one or two million people possibly stripped from the Islamic State.



Nominally this blog is about “quantitative historical analysis”….not just as related to defense, not just as related to The Dupuy Institute’s work. We have not posted much here outside of our immediate areas of expertise (and one could certainly argue that this subject is not history).

This article caught my attention: Neanderthals in Germany Went Extinct Right After Population Peak

A few highlights:

  1. Neanderthals lived from 200,000 to 40,000 years ago.
  2. Over 50% of identified Neanderthal settlements in Germany date back to between 60,000 to 43,000 years ago.
  3. During the time period between 100,000 and 70,000 years ago, there were only four identified Neanderthal settlement sites in Germany
  4. In the period between 70,000 and 43,000 years ago there were ninety-four
  5. Less than 1,000 years later, there was a rapid decrease and Neanderthals disappeared
  6. Neanderthals eventually went extinct in Europe between 41,000 and 39,000 year ago, coinciding with a period of extreme cold.

Neanderthals have 99.5% of the same DNA as modern humans (Chimpanzees maybe as little as 94%: see Human-chimp Gene Gap). Some Neanderthal DNA appears to be part of modern Eurasians.

ISIL Oil Revenues

I gather it has kind of been a grind to get to this point, but this article notes that: ISIS Suffers Near Collapse in Oil Revenue

A few interesting quotes:

  1. “The Islamic State, pushed off more than half the Iraqi territory it seized in 2014…”
  2. “….with partial access to just two of the five Iraqi oil fields it once controlled.”
  3. “In May the US estimated that its revenue had been roughly halved to $250 million a year from the territory it controlled in Iraq and Syria”
  4. “The loss of oil revenues has forced the militants to cut salaries by a third….”
  5. “They have also imposed more taxes on farmers, truckers, and traders and increased fines for minor violations of religious bans….”
  6. “At least 100 drivers were killed trying to smuggle crude into Syria. Drivers are refusing to go…..”
  7. “I saw my brother get killed by an airstrike while sitting inside his truck. Other trucks were blown up like in a video game.”


Trevor Dupuy’s Combat Advance Rate Verities

t-34_76_4One of the basic processes of combat is movement. According to Trevor Dupuy, one of the most important outcomes of ground combat is advance against opposition. He spent a good amount of time examining historical advance rates, seeking to determine if technological change had led to increases in advance rates over time. On the face of it, he determined that daily rates had increased by about one-half, from about 17 kilometers per day during the Napoleonic Era, to about 26 kilometers a day by the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. However, when calculated by the duration of a campaign, average daily advance rates did not appear to have changed much at all over 200 years, despite the advent of mechanization.

His research on the topic yielded another list of verities. He did not believe they accounted for every factor or influence on advance rates, but he did think they accounted for most of them. He was also reasonably confident that no weapons or means of conveyance then foreseen would alter the basic relationships in his list.[1]

  1. Advance against opposition requires local combat power preponderance.
  2. There is no direct relationship between advance rates and force strength ratios.
  3. Under comparable conditions, small forces advance faster than larger forces.
  4. Advance rates vary inversely with the strength of the defender’s fortifications.
  5. Advance rates are greater for a force that achieves surprise.
  6. Advance rates decline daily in sustained operations.
  7. Superior relative combat effectiveness increases an attacker’s advance rate.
  8. An “all-out” effort increases advance rates at a cost in higher casualties.
  9. Advance rates are reduced by difficult terrain.
  10. Advance rates are reduced by rivers and canals.
  11. Advance rates vary positively with the quality and density of roads.
  12. Advance rates are reduced by bad weather.
  13. Advance rates are lower at night than in daytime.
  14. Advance rates are reduced by inadequate supply.
  15. Advance rates reflect interactions with friendly and enemy missions.


[1] Trevor N. Dupuy, Understanding War: History and Theory of Combat (New York: Paragon House, 1987), pp. 158–163.

The U.S. Army’s Theory of Warfare…?

TP 525-3-1Last week, I touched on the ongoing effort by the U.S. Army to assess the nature of Russian advances in military technology and how they might affect the nature of combat on future battlefields. In a previous post, I highlighted that the Army’s preliminary conclusions about changes in near-future ground combat were being challenged by the other armed services in the context of debates over the next fiscal year U.S. military budget.

According to recently-confirmed Secretary of the Army, Eric Fanning, in order to persuade its critics, the Army needs to a better job of explaining the role it plays. “What I would have to do first of all is… tell the Army story… and the reason to do that is to make sure that the Army is properly resourced.”

Nadia Schadlow, a senior program officer at the Smith Richardson Foundation, pushed back against the idea that the Army needs a better narrative. She contends that the Army has already developed a theory of warfare that spells out how it believes near and medium-term wars will be fought and that it is now up to the critics to explain what aspects of this theory they object to and why.

Schadlow sketched out the U.S. Army’s current theory of warfare as it has been explained by senior Army leaders and in doctrinal publications.

The Army view is that conflicts in the future, like those in the past, will ultimately be resolved on land. Army forces will be essential components of joint operations to create sustainable political outcomes while defeating enemies and adversaries who challenge U.S. advantages in all domains: land, air, maritime, space, and cyberspace. Army contributions to joint operations provide multiple options to civilian and military leaders. These capabilities include tailorable and scalable combinations of special operations and conventional forces, regionally aligned and globally responsive combined arms teams, and foundational theater capabilities to enable joint operations.

The notion of a military service defining its own theory of warfare—as opposed to adopting a general theory of warfare—is an interesting one. [Schadlow drew the paragraph above from TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1 The U.S. Army Operating Concept 2020-2040: Win in a Complex World (2014)] Schadlow referenced a recent article by U.S. Army Major Robert Chamberlain that assessed the German Army’s theory of warfare in the context of its military defeat at Verdun in 1916. Chamberlain defines a theory of warfare as

[A] description of how a military intends to produce strategic outcomes. In making a decision to apply a military remedy to a strategic problem, one employs a theory of warfare to determine how and if the proposed solution will work. In the modern world, the development of grand strategy often receives theories of warfare as a given. Due to the time and expense required to develop and train a modern military, the strategic decision-makers are bound by the military capabilities and doctrine that exist when they assume power.

He spelled out what a theory of warfare does for a military organization.

A theory of warfare provides the ordering principles of a military whether made explicit or not. It is a description of the strategic environment, of what the military is, and how it applies itself against an adversary. Everything else that a military does—how it dresses, organizes itself, procures equipment, imposes discipline, generates force, sees terrain, treats captured enemies, deals with civilians, and so forth—is largely a function of how it defines and achieves  success in war.

Chamberlain’s definition for a theory of warfare is idiosyncratic and he does not make reference to the very large body of existing scholarship on warfare theory. It sounds a good deal more like an operating concept rather than a general theory of warfare. Schadlow’s definition is also problematic in that it seems like a self-referential description of how the U.S. conceptualizes the contemporary operating environment and the tasks the Army carries out as part of the overall joint force responsibilities. She twice cites the Army’s contention that future conflicts will be ultimately decided on land, but does not explain why. An Army theory of warfare would be more compelling if it also explained warfare in the other domains, not just on the ground.

Nevertheless, theories and theorizing are useful exercises in critical thinking. Even if Chamberlain’s concept does not rise to the level of a theory of warfare, it does show that effort is being made within the U.S. military to break down these ideas into their constituent parts and rethink how they work together. This is a subject I plan to return to in the near future.

Joe Gould

My search for the largest history book ever written brought me to this man: Joe Gould

He was working on a book called “An Oral History of Our Time” that was supposedly 9,000,000 words (compared to my feeble 791,698 words in the Kursk book).

This generated a book and a film about him: Joe Gould’s Secret (book) and Joe Gould’s Secret (film). I have neither read nor seen them.

Anyhow, the question remains: Did I Just Write the Largest History Book Ever?

Mosul to be Retaken Soon?

It looks like Mosul is about to be retaken soon:

Mosul Assault in Focus….

It is about time. Don’t recall many cases where the insurgents grabbed a major city and it took the conventional forces over two years to retake it. Jaffna by the Tamil Tigers and maybe a few other cases.

A few highlights:

  1. Might happen in October
  2. “…campaign needs 20,000-30,000 troops.”
  3.  “A few thousand police and 15,000 local fighters….to hold land after the assault.”
  4. “Mosul still houses one million civilians…”
  5. “…up to 10,000 jihadists are in the city…”

Mass Fires vs. Precision Fires on the Battlefield of Tomorrow

Photograph of Russian T-90 tank following a hit by a U.S.-made TOW missile in Syria. [War Is]

Photograph of Russian T-90 tank following a hit by a U.S.-made TOW missile in Syria. [War Is]

For anyone paying attention, it is no surprise that the U.S. Army is intently watching Russia’s military operations in the Ukraine. What they have seen is sobering. Defense One’s Patrick Tucker recently highlighted the preliminary findings of The Russia New Generation Warfare study directed by Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, who heads the Army’s Capabilities Integration Center.

According to McMaster, “the Russians have superior artillery firepower, better combat vehicles, and have learned sophisticated use of UAVs for tactical effect. Should U.S. forces find themselves in a land war with Russia, he said, they would be in for a rude, cold awakening.”

The Army evidently envisions a future clash between U.S. and Russian or Russian-backed forces will begin with long-range missile exchanges.

“We spend a long time talking about winning long-range missile duels,” said McMaster. But long-range missiles only get you through the front door. The question then becomes what will you do when you get there.

The tactics of Russian-backed irregular forces in the Ukraine have demonstrated effective leveraging of the new technological capabilities.

“Look at the enemy countermeasures,” [McMaster] said, noting Russia’s use of nominally semi-professional forces who are capable of “dispersion, concealment, intermingling with civilian populations…the ability to disrupt our network strike capability, precision navigation and timing capabilities.”

The implication of this, McMaster contends, would be that “you’re probably going to have a close fight… Increasingly, close combat overmatch is an area we’ve neglected, because we’ve taken it for granted.”

One big reason for the perceived Russian overmatch is a due to an advantage in artillery, both in terms of range and in power.

[Phil] Karber, the president of the Potomac Foundation, went on a fact-finding mission to Ukraine last year, and returned with the conclusion that the United States had long overemphasized precision artillery on the battlefield at the expense of mass fires. Since the 1980s, he said last October, at an Association for the United States Army event, the U.S. has given up its qualitative edge, mostly by getting rid of cluster munitions.

Munitions have advanced incredibly since then. One of the most terrifying weapons that the Russians are using on the battlefield are thermobaric warheads, weapons that are composed almost entirely of fuel and burn longer and with more intensity than other types of munitions.

“In a 3-minute period…a Russian fire strike wiped out two mechanized battalions [with] a combination of top-attack munitions and thermobaric warheads,” said Karber. “If you have not experienced or seen the effects of thermobaric warheads, start taking a hard look. They might soon be coming to a theater near you.”

McMaster believes that the combination of heavier, longer-ranged artillery abetted by the targeting capabilities afforded by hordes of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) provides the Russians with a significant battlefield advantage.

“We’re out-ranged by a lot of these systems and they employ improved conventional munitions, which we are going away from. There will be a 40- to 60-percent reduction in lethality in the systems that we have,” he said. “Remember that we already have fewer artillery systems. Now those fewer artillery systems will be less effective relative to the enemy. So we need to do something on that now.”

One potential solution is to develop more flexibility in existing U.S. Army fires capabilities.

To remedy that, McMaster is looking into a new area called “cross domain fires,” which would outfit ground units to hit a much wider array of targets. “When an Army fires unit arrives somewhere, it should be able to do surface-to-air, surface-to-surface, and shore-to-ship capabilities. We are developing that now and there are some really promising capabilities,” he said.

It remains to be seen how pervasive and permanent these new Russian military capabilities are and whether they will result in changes in the existing system for modern conventional combat. The advantages the Russians derive from mass fires would appear to directly challenge the U.S.’s investment in precision guided munitions and strike capabilities going back to World War II. Precision strike, networked capabilities, and information warfare were fundamental aspects of the technology-driven Revolution in Military Affairs concept that dominated U.S. military thinking in the 1990s and early 2000s. Leveraging technology is also a foundational aspect of the Defense Department’s current Third Offset Strategy.

Can Russia Cow Europe into Submission?

My previous post addressed a famous 1980s U.S. policy and strategic debate in which quantitative analysis featured prominently. Such debates are ongoing, of course. The International Security Studies Forum just posted a roundtable discussion of a recent book by MIT political scientist Barry R. Posen, Restraint:  A New Foundation for U.S. Grand Strategy. The prolific Posen is the Ford International Professor of Political Science and director of MIT’s Security Studies Program. He played a role in the 1980s NATO/Warsaw Pact debate and his ongoing research “focuses on US military strategy, force structure and capabilities, and force posture (the global distribution of U.S. military forces.)”

His new book addresses the relationship between contemporary U.S. national strategy and net assessments of military power. In it, Posen makes an argument for a new grand strategic approach, as described in its blurb:

The United States, Barry R. Posen argues in Restraint, has grown incapable of moderating its ambitions in international politics. Since the collapse of Soviet power, it has pursued a grand strategy that he calls “liberal hegemony,” one that Posen sees as unnecessary, counterproductive, costly, and wasteful. Written for policymakers and observers alike, Restraint explains precisely why this grand strategy works poorly and then provides a carefully designed alternative grand strategy and an associated military strategy and force structure. In contrast to the failures and unexpected problems that have stemmed from America’s consistent overreaching, Posen makes an urgent argument for restraint in the future use of U.S. military strength… His alternative for military strategy, which Posen calls “command of the commons,” focuses on protecting U.S. global access through naval, air, and space power, while freeing the United States from most of the relationships that require the permanent stationing of U.S. forces overseas.

In his response to the comments of the roundtable participants, Posen offered his capsule assessment of Russia’s current strategic situation in the context of his recommendation that the U.S. scale back its military commitment to European security:

Russia, under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin, has made itself into a meaningful military power, and is practicing a muscular foreign policy. It seized Crimea, subverts the Donbas, and backs the Assad regime in Syria. This does not mean that it is no longer possible to implement Restraint in Europe. Russia’s power must be put in perspective. The National Intelligence Council assesses Russia’s net power as a fraction of the European Union’s today, and expects little improvement by mid-century. Its disastrous economic policies show no sign of change and the decrease in oil prices has made things even worse. Europe, taken as a whole, will remain quite capable. The question is whether Russia, by virtue of a sustained commitment to the generation of military power from a deteriorating economic base, can somehow cow Europe into submission. Would the Europeans invest so little in defending themselves in the absence of the U.S. military commitment that Russia could win what the Soviet Union could not–hegemony in Europe? [Emphasis added]

In light of recent debates over the correlation of military of forces and alleged military vulnerability of the Baltic States, a realistic assessment of overall strategic and military power seems like a good question to address. Posen’s arguments are well interrogated in the roundtable and his response is illuminating. It is all worth the time to read.

[Post edited for contextual clarity.]