They are on Schedule

Well, they are on schedule: iraqi-forces-attempt-first-push-mosul

Two weeks ago Peshmerga Brigadier General Sidwan Barzani (nephew of the president and telecom millionaire) said that there would be a two-week advance and a six-week mop up. So far, they appear to be on schedule. I do note that a number of the talking heads on U.S. TV seemed to discount this prediction.

Anyhow, they have entered the eastern suburbs of Mosul today (Monday). We shall see if this is over in six weeks.

Syria and Iraq After The Islamic State

As Iraqi forces close in on the northern city of Mosul, the commander of U.S Joint Task Force-INHERENT RESOLVE, Army Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend, indicated on Wednesday that preparations are being accelerated for isolating Raqaa, Syria, the capital of the Islamic State. The attack could begin within two weeks, The Daily Beast’s Nancy Youssef reported on Thursday. Townsend stated that the timing is being influenced by evidence of Daesh planning for terrorist attacks on unidentified targets in the West.

According to Townsend, the projected offensive against Raqaa will include elements of the Syrian Kurd YPG militia. “The only force that is capable on any near term timeline are the Syrian Democratic Forces, of which the YPG are a significant portion,” Townsend said. “We’ll move soon to isolate Raqqa with the forces that are ready to go.”

Although YPG has not stated whether it is willing to participate in an attack on Raqaa, Turkey has expressed its opposition to involving the Syrian Kurds, which it says will “endanger the future of Syria.” Turkey is actively fighting a domestic Kurdish insurgency and has launched military strikes on Syrian and Iraqi Kurdish forces.

The U.S.’s willingness to back the Syrian Kurdish forces over Turkey’s objections are a clear harbinger of the challenges facing the region even after Mosul and Raqaa are liberated from Daesh control. Liberating Raqaa will not end the civil war in Syria and will not spell the end of Daesh. Daesh forces still control wide swaths of territory in Syria. Will the U.S. remain committed to fighting Daesh in Syria after Raqaa falls?

U.S. and Iraqi military leaders have predicted that Daesh will continue to wage an insurgency in Iraq as a potent guerilla force. After Mosul falls, the Iraqi government faces the prospect of a grinding, open-ended counterinsurgency effort fueled by unresolved sectarian divisions. Is the U.S. prepared to maintain its support for open-ended Iraqi counterinsurgency operations after Mosul is recaptured?

Interwoven into these questions are bigger, regional questions. Will the Syrian and Iraqi Kurds be allowed political autonomy in those parts of Syria and Iraq liberated from Daesh control? Will the Free Syrian Forces become the de-facto government over the parts of Syria not under Assad’s control? What is Iraqi Kurdistan’s future in Iraq? While the liberation of Mosul and Raqaa will constitute manifest defeats for Daesh, these forthcoming victories do not appear that they will be decisive in resolving the ongoing local and regional political conflicts.

Wounded-To-Killed Ratios

Some wounded-to-killed ratios drawn from my upcoming book War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat. I have an entire chapter on the subject in my book (Chapter Fifteen: Casualties). This first chart is from Trevor Dupuy’s Attrition:


A table I created to compare U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps ratios:


A tabled I created looking at the U.S. units the I Corps area of Vietnam. This is after the Tet offensive, and these units are operating side-by-side and listed from north to south. The 1st Bde, 5th ID was up at the DMZ while the 23rd (Americal) Division was in the southern part of I Corps:


And finally the ratios from Iraq and Afghanistan. Note these are higher ratios compared to what is reported in the previous post for the Iraqi Army and the Peshmerga.


This is why the Iraq Army and Peshmerga wounded-to-kill ratio in the previous post caught my attention.


[1] Table from Attrition: Forecasting Battles Casualties and Equipment Losses in Modern War, page 49. The dates for the wars were added by this author.

Body Counts

Have some estimate of losses from the operations around Mosul. See: us-general-says-800-900-fighters-killed-mosul

This operations have been going on since Monday, October 17, so I am guessing they cover a 10 day or so period.

A few factoids:

  1. Up to 900 Islamic State fighters killed (source: Gen. Joseph Votel, who heads the U.S. Central Command).
  2. There are between 3,500 – 5,000 ISIL fighters in Mosul (I assume we have not really engaged them yet).
  3. Up to another 2,000 ISIL fighters in the broader area (I assume this is who they have been fighting).
  4. As of late Tuesday Iraq Army had lost 57 killed and 255 or so wounded.
  5. For the Kurdish Peshmerga the numbers are 30 killed and 70- 100 wounded.

Let me do a little back-of-the-envelope calculations here:

  1. 900 ISIL killed versus 87 allied killed = 10.3-to-1 exchange ratio. This seems high.
  2. Wounded-to-killed ratio Iraq Army = 4.47 wounded per killed (this seems low)
  3. Wounded-to-killed ratio Peshmerga = 3.33 wounded per killed (this seems low)
  4. Wounded-to-killed ratio ISIL…unknown, but with 900 killed then are there 1,800 are 2,700 wounded…or are there no wounded?
  5. If there are wounded, then if total ISIL casualties (killed, wounded and missing) are 2,700 – 3,600 and there are 2,000 ISIL fighters in the broader area…..then…….

The body count seems high. What appeared to be more relevant in Vietnam was the number of rifles and other personal weapons taken after the battle. The assumption was that most dead warriors left a weapon on the battlefield. Often the weapon count was less than half the estimated number of killed.

It appears that the estimate of 900 ISIL killed may be high and the Iraq Army and Peshmerga reports of wounded are low. This seems to happen a lot.

Odd Nobel Awards


It is really hard to find a more distinguished award than the Nobel awards, created by Alfed Nobel, the Swedish “merchant of death” that invented dynamite and owned Bofors. But there have been a few prizes awarded that are a little odd to say the least. Earlier this month they awarded the Nobel peace prize to Juan Manuel Santos, for negotiating a peace agreement to end the 52 year war between the government of Colombia and the rebel group Fuerza Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC). But five days before the announcement of the prize, the peace deal was rejected by a referendum of Colombian voters. So, peace prize awarded, but no peace.

Just in case the Colombian War has not been on your horizon, not only is it the longest running hot conflict in the world, but it has resulted in the deaths of over 200,000 people. This makes it the second bloodiest war ever in the Western Hemisphere, behind the U.S. Civil War (1861-65) and ahead of the Chaco War (1932-1935).

The war has always operated at a fairly low level. The bloodiest year for the counterinsurgency forces was in 2002 with 1,207 deaths and an estimated 1,817 insurgent deaths. By 2005 these figures had dropped to 143 and 63 respectively. The peak U.S. involvement was in 2002 with 224 advisors. These figures are drawn from our Dupuy Insurgency Spread Sheets (DISS). We never assembled a total figure of deaths from the war so cannot confirm the often used figure of over 200,000 killed, but starting in 1988, the number of homicides in Colombia exceed 20,000 a year, and they were less than 10,000 a year only five years earlier. The war peaked in 2002 and is much, much quieter now.

There have been other strange prizes awarded over the years, like President Obama getting awarded one in 2009, when all he had done to date was get elected nine months earlier. There was a prize awarded in 1973 to Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho for the Paris agreement that brought a ceasefire in the Vietnam War. Le Duc Tho refused to accept the award. The war continued for another two years after the prize, culminating with North Vietnam overrunning South Vietnam. Certainly it was peace at that point, but hardly in the spirit of the prize.

There is one Nobel prize awarded recently that was not odd, this was the literature prize for Bob Dylan. About time! There is no question that Bob Dylan was the single most influential lyricist (and therefore poet) in world in the last 50 years. Before Bob Dylan, song lyrics were basically “she loves you, yea, yea, yea.” After Dylan, there wasn’t a whole lot of subjects not being addressed. Dylan came from a rich American folk and blues tradition very much developed by Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly and Pete Seeger. He embraced it, enhanced it, and left an indelible mark on popular music. Just as Homer originally recited his poetic narratives to music, many modern poets are singers and songwriters. This prize just recognizes that obvious, but sometimes overlooked point. People don’t read or write a lot of poetry these days, but they do listen to a lot of music and lyrics. These lyrics are often bad poetry, but not all of them. Some published authors and poets have become song writers (Leonard Cohen and Rod McKuen come to mind, for example). They did not cease to be poets when they became song writers. Even the name of this blog is drawn from a “popular song,” just to drive home the point. Modern poetry often includes a backbeat, be it NWA or Bob Dylan.

            A link to the lyrics of My Back Pages: My Back Pages


Last verse:

Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats

Too noble to neglect

Deceived me into thinking

I had something to protect

Good and bad, I define these terms

Quite clear, no doubt, somehow

Ah, but I was so much older then

I’m younger than that now


The AIDS epidemic has always held my attention because it is a modern disease that was recently spread. Serves as a warning as to how difficult it is to respond to a new disease or a new variant of a disease. One can certainly imagine a number of biological war scenarios, or something like a new Spanish Flu epidemic like happened 1918-1920. Disease and plague have certainly played their part in history.

Anyhow, spotted an article that indicates that the AIDS virus came into the United States from the Caribbean to New York in the 1970s. This makes a certain amount of sense. As the virus does take time before it shows symptoms, it was clearly around for a while before the doctors first spotted it in California in 1981.


There is a more detailed article in Nature that I have not pulled up.

Tank Loss Rates in Combat: Then and Now

wwii-tank-battlefieldAs the U.S. Army and the national security community seek a sense of what potential conflicts in the near future might be like, they see the distinct potential for large tank battles. Will technological advances change the character of armored warfare? Perhaps, but it seems more likely that the next big tank battles – if they occur – will likely resemble those from the past.

One aspect of future battle of great interest to military planners is probably going to tank loss rates in combat. In a previous post, I looked at the analysis done by Trevor Dupuy on the relationship between tank and personnel losses in the U.S. experience during World War II. Today, I will take a look at his analysis of historical tank loss rates.

In general, Dupuy identified that a proportional relationship exists between personnel casualty rates in combat and losses in tanks, guns, trucks, and other equipment. (His combat attrition verities are discussed here.) Looking at World War II division and corps-level combat engagement data in 1943-1944 between U.S., British and German forces in the west, and German and Soviet forces in the east, Dupuy found similar patterns in tank loss rates.


In combat between two division/corps-sized, armor-heavy forces, Dupuy found that the tank loss rates were likely to be between five to seven times the personnel casualty rate for the winning side, and seven to 10 for the losing side. Additionally, defending units suffered lower loss rates than attackers; if an attacking force suffered a tank losses seven times the personnel rate, the defending forces tank losses would be around five times.

Dupuy also discovered the ratio of tank to personnel losses appeared to be a function of the proportion of tanks to infantry in a combat force. Units with fewer than six tanks per 1,000 troops could be considered armor supporting, while those with a density of more than six tanks per 1,000 troops were armor-heavy. Armor supporting units suffered lower tank casualty rates than armor heavy units.


Dupuy looked at tank loss rates in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War and found that they were consistent with World War II experience.

What does this tell us about possible tank losses in future combat? That is a very good question. One guess that is reasonably certain is that future tank battles will probably not involve forces of World War II division or corps size. The opposing forces will be brigade combat teams, or more likely, battalion-sized elements.

Dupuy did not have as much data on tank combat at this level, and what he did have indicated a great deal more variability in loss rates. Examples of this can be found in the tables below.


These data points showed some consistency, with a mean of 6.96 and a standard deviation of 6.10, which is comparable to that for division/corps loss rates. Personnel casualty rates are higher and much more variable than those at the division level, however. Dupuy stated that more research was necessary to establish a higher degree of confidence and relevance of the apparent battalion tank loss ratio. So one potentially fruitful area of research with regard to near future combat could very well be a renewed focus on historical experience.


Trevor N. Dupuy, Attrition: Forecasting Battle Casualties and Equipment Losses in Modern War (Falls Church, VA: NOVA Publications, 1995), pp. 41-43; 81-90; 102-103

More than Halfway to Mosul


Anyhow, this week it appears that the Iraqis have advanced more than halfway to Mosul. The town of Bartella was freed on Thursday: Raise flag in Bartella

They are now only 9 miles from Mosul. When the offensive started, it was more like 20 miles from the East. So progress is being made. Perhaps they will stick to the Peshmerga Brigadier General Barzani’s schedule of getting to Mosul in two weeks. The forces that took Bartella were Iraqi Army Special Forces vice Pesmerga.

By the way, Bartella has been a Christian center for almost 900 years. They had a population of around 30,000 before ISIL took over: Bartella

Russian Fleet Strength

The Carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and the Battle Cruiser Peter the Great are the only two ships of that size in the Russian fleet (keying off the previous post). One source places their active strength at:

1 Carrier (58,660 tons displacement) – commissioned 1990

1 Battle Cruiser (28,000 tons) – commissioned 1998

3 Cruisers (12,500 tons) – commissioned 1982-1989

14 destroyers (7,570 – 7,940 tons) – commissioned 1982-1999

1 Kashin class destroyer (4,390 tons) — commissioned 1969

6 Frigates (3,575 – 4,400 tons) – commissioned 1980-2016

5 Large corvettes (2,2000 tons) — commissioned 2008-2014

Lots of landing ships, smaller corvettes (less than 1,000 tons), auxiliary ships, intelligence ships, patrol boats, minesweepers, landing craft, and of course, submarines: 7 Cruise missile submarines (19,400 tons), 18 attack submarines (7,250 – 13,800 tons), 2 special-purpose submarines and 13 “boomers” (ballistic missile submarines).

The Admiral Kuznetsov Adventure

 The super-stealthy Admiral Kuznetzov passes stealthily through the English Channel near Kent Credit: Jim Bennett for The Telegraph

The super-stealthy Admiral Kuznetsov passes stealthily through the English Channel near Kent (Jim Bennett for The Telegraph)

A Russian naval flotilla of seven ships, including the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov and battle cruiser Peter the Great, steamed through the English Channel today under the watchful eyes of the British Royal Navy. The squadron is on a voyage from Severomorsk, the home of the Russian Northern Fleet, to the coast of Syria to help provide air support for the regime of Bashar Assad against the forces of Syrian rebels and Daesh fighters.

The deployment is viewed as more of a politically symbolic show of force than a meaningful military contribution. The Kuznetsov carries just 15 Su-33 and MiG-29 fighter/bombers and is capable of only limited flight operations. This will provide meager augmentation for Russian aircraft already operating from Syrian airbases.

The Kuznetsov's projected course from Russia to Syria. {BBC)

This will mark the carrier’s first combat mission, although it has been deployed to the Mediterranean Sea four times previously, in 1995, 2007, 2012, and 2014. The U.S. Sixth Fleet monitored the Kuznetsov‘s 2012 voyage closely, out of concerns that the aged and problematic vessel might suffer mechanical troubles sufficient to cause it to sink, requiring a complex rescue operation. Such concerns were validated when the Kuznetsov‘s boilers “blew out” off the coast of France on it’s return voyage, and the ship had to be taken under tow by an accompanying Russian ocean-going tug.

The present squadron also includes a tug, a practice that appears to have become standard Russian Navy procedure in recent years.