Counterinsurgency metrics

I went to this event at the Heritage Foundation this morning, titled "When Do You Know You're Winning? Combating Insurgencies - Past, Present, and Future." You can watch video or listen to the mp3 of it yourself if you want to - everything was on the record. A few thoughts:

The "keynote speaker," Representative Thaddeus McCotter, Republican from Michigan, made the brilliant point that Iraq IS in fact the central front in the War on Terror, by showing a map of the Middle East, with Iraq in the middle of it. He then stated that "retreat" from Iraq would lead to Iranian revolutionary ideology dominating Iraq, and then Afghanistan, and then Pakistan - the dominoes would start to fall. He feels that the American effort in Iraq was failing between 2003-2006 because it was a "top-down" strategy, and now that General Petraeus is working with grassroots organization with a "bottom-up" approach, we will succeed. I can only assume that Representative McCotter will be calling for alliances with al-Sadr's Mahdi militia, a true grassroots organization, during his next address to Congress. McCotter ended with some Q & A - one person asked about Turkey, and his response was, "Turkey is screwed, too bad - they should have helped us out with the initial invasion, but they didn't, so I couldn't care less."

Dr. Stewart and Dr. Crane both talked about metrics in Vietnam and both were pretty interesting. They didn't quite agree but both stated their cases well. However the truly alarming thing was LTC Gian Gentile's presentation. LTC Gentile commanded a battalion in Baghdad up until a few weeks ago and is now a professor at West Point. He gave a rundown of the metrics he used. I'll list them in the order he presented them, which according to him is the order of importance:
Body count (which he acknowledged as "backwards" but justified by referencing some Eliot Cohen article in 2006 that argued "counterinsurgency is still war, and war's essential element is fighting")
Number of times he is attacked (he wants it to be as low as possible)
Number of dead bodies found on the street
Sectarian makeup of Iraqi units he's partnered with
Number of local tips he gets
Number of enemy captured

Opening shops on the main street
Keeping useful local leaders alive
"Normal" activity of people
Willingness of Sunnis to travel across Baghdad
Essential services, employment levels
These seem to be great metrics if your first priority is leaving Iraq with as many soldiers as possible, with little regard to the situation you are leaving to the guys relieving you. It is conducive to holing up in your Forward Operating Base and leaving only to react to events. There is no mention of the local political situation that the security situation is supposed to be oriented around. Furthermore he has as "metrics" things which aren't even nominally under his control, such as the makeup of Iraqi units and the willingness of Sunnis to travel in other commanders' Areas of Responsibility. His emphasis on body count as his primary metric was especially depressing - supposedly we had learned that was a poor metric back in Vietnam (and probably earlier).

LTC Gentile did say some useful things however - he pointed out that the situation can't be measured by quantifiable variables, and that gut feeling and judgment are the overriding variables, and that progress should be presented in a narrative form rather than through graphs, etc. (although some graphs are useful, especially these graphs). However I was left with a fair amount of questions:

Do the insurgencies use the inverse of our metrics? Or do they use different measures of success? I would expect the latter - that their metrics would be more focused on the political situation in Iraq.

Should there be separate measures - one for internal use, and one for public diplomacy towards the local population?

If the primary metric is the commander's gut feeling, wouldn't you run into problems, as many commanders are insulated from the actual situation on the ground and believe they are doing a good job?

If it takes time to develop metrics based on local conditions, aren't counterinsurgency practitioners more likely to pick metrics that show they are succeeding, or orient their counterinsurgency methods around things they can more easily measure?

Can commanders effectively evaluate their own performance? How do you balance the very granular nature of counterinsurgency, with very different local geographies, with the need for independent outside evaluation?


Arjun said...

Making body count a metric is a political decision, not a military one. Have guidelines on body count been sugessted (imposed) on commanders in the field? Three years ago, "success" with 20,000 dead soldiers...victory or defeat?

Adrian said...

LTC Gentile was talking about metrics in terms of how he would explain to his superior officer whether he the situation was improving or not, not explaining to Congress. Basically commanders decide what metrics they will use in their own local areas - the unit adjacent to LTC Gentile's unit might well have used totally different metrics.

Nonetheless I see all military decisions as political, and what many people would call political decisions as "infringing" on military decision-making as well I see as perfectly normal. I think the line between politics and the military has, is, and always will be very fuzzy.

Arjun said...

then Ill move slightly sideways... all commanders are going to try and keep body count down, willingness to sacrifice lives requires the vision of an acheivable, or at least concrete, goal.

Adrian said...

I agree, but units that believe in their mission will be willing to sacrafice in order to achieve it. The definition of victory has changed so much that I think some commanders just view their time in Iraq as "let's get through this with as few casualties as possible, this isn't worth dying over." You hear in some circles that Petraeus' new vision of COIN has given the soldiers a renewed sense of purpose, but I don't know whether to believe that or whether its information designed to prolong American involvement.