• Darren Lindeman

Numeracy and counter insurgency. The need for system analysis.

Updated: Jul 7, 2019

Looking at historical conflicts, it can be interpreted that unconventional strategies were always used since the beginning of warfare. Sun Tzu in his military treatise The Art of War laid some literature foundations to the use of intelligence, spies and asymmetric advantages to overwhelm opponents. The definition of asymmetric warfare, according to English Oxford - Living - Dictionaries is; ‘Warfare between forces unequal in size, composition, or means, specifically, warfare in which a smaller or ostensibly inferior force uses unexpected, unconventional tactics to its advantage in combating a larger or apparently superior adversary.’ Unconventional and counter insurgency warfare at least in the cultural narrative differs from state to state. In America in its modern perceptual idea, it is likely to remind the population of the U.S involvement in Vietnam and Afghanistan. In the Australian narrative it may remind of the East Timor crisis, in the United Kingdom the Troubles. Counter insurgency always had a historical significance since the first civilizations in developed town and city states there were likely foreign tribes whom presented a security risk. These foreigners, barbarians and uncivilized peoples, these men, whom do not fight on equal terms, these men of evil. In the late 20th century, insurgencies developed somewhat in all likelihood a revolutionary narrative.

These idealistic, simple but yet hopeful peoples, fighting in all odds a war to secure the future of their own kin. Fighting against, an oppressor of unrealistic proportions, of a oppressive nature and evil. In military history, the term unconventional warfare and insurgencies may imply, an enemy whom at a resource disadvantage attempts to use his advantages in mobility, morale and efficiency to articulate a strategy against state institutions. This therefore normally implies the lack of a formal military institution of insurgency organizations. Unconventional or asymmetrical warfare at least in the 20th and 21st century has a largely has a social, political and economic dependent clause. Insurgencies are more likely to occur in states with poor economic and political participation, these are states with which corruption is rampant and or extreme ethnic and religious indifference. In developing nations where much of the population live below the internationally recognized poverty line, economics plays a large part in shaping the quality of life of the oppressed or disenfranchised groups of people. Limited resources and political misalignment as seen in Iraq, Syria, for example, created a social economic vacuum to which militant and extremist ideologies prevailed under their individual circumstances.

In Rwanda, Tutsi and Hutu ethnic divide led to the genocide in which, around four-fifths of a million Tutsi were systematically tortured and killed and the subsequent armed control of government by Tutsi rebels. Understanding unconventional warfare and its importance is most relevant today because regional conflicts are fought by a complex, organized and informal system comprised of localized groups with different social, political and financial agendas. Informal entities, operating within a territory of the state as independent agents of local, regional or national geopolitical change is not a new concept. Many multinational and regional criminal organizations fit this description. Organizations whom operate within different states, be in different countries or local states. Los Zetas in Mexico, La Cosa Nostra in New York, the Medellín Cartel in Columbia and so on. These entities are different in their modes of operations under different criminal environments, however they are all essentially a profit enterprise with different people whom have their own goals and objectives. This highlights the major key consideration in that informal groups and unconventional strategies deal deals with individuals at its core.

In the view economic and political domain, it is individuals whom are agents of change. This be it in the context of a villager elder in Afghanistan signing a pledge of alliance to a supranational military, a carpenter taking arms against a government army or a land lord paying tax to a local insurgency. Therefore in a fair view, there is no one stand operating procedure or means to which over encompasses all strategy in dealing with insurgencies. Humans are understandably or not, rational or irrational actors. Change and uncertainty, to the probability of different events relative to each other is likely extremely difficult to predict.

In the view of counter insurgency many times, there is no one enemy. Although the enemy may share a common disposition and behave in common disposition, they are likely by no means a simple conventional force. As of 2018 the past half dozen decades have arguably shown the successful accomplishments of some insurgencies against others. The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan for one, the war in Chechnya, Isil's geopolitical rise in the Levant and that of the African National Council to overthrow the Apartheid.

In the view of military literature, the critical resources the enemy has to conduct insurgencies has changed from the past decades. Psychological warfare has shifted the narrative of a just cause to that of a cause of retribution. Technology change especially to that of communications be it from encryption of tele and radio communications has allowed coordination of individuals so that they become mobile and astute in obtaining and utilizing intelligence. Google Earth, for example, is a freeware which can be used to terrain of an operating area. The increasing number of road vehicles in third-world nations also contributed to logistics networks and military mobility of insurgencies. This access to mobility and communications has developed insurgents to become more then simple infantry only capable of acting on orders. This change in the technological environment has shifted insurgents and insurgent prospects to more than that of a localized force. This change in the technology environment has allowed insurgency to mobilize efforts and results in propaganda, communications, intelligence and financial distribution via new networking domains. Muhammed Emwazi or more infamously known in the Media as Jihadi John is not a mere Isis fighter but a media agent whose narrative to that of a western perspective is the epitome of evil.

Foreign fighters whom have emigrated to Syria and helped Isil establish their objectives may also carry multi-disciplinary input to the governance and operation of the proto – state. This be it in their full or part time occupation as a clergyman, a scientist, a doctor, an intelligence officer and even a potential suicide bomber. Therefore, it should be noted that a state security participant in this form of conflict should be aware of the multi-disciplined skills of the enemy. Security operations also should be well verse to the social, economic and intelligence factors that have implications beyond that of a purely militaristic – objective based approach. It is important that to deal with a counter insurgency plan localization and understanding of local stakeholders is critical for counter insurgency. “According to the British Army Field Manual, 2009; ‘understanding human terrain is one of the critical aspects of insurgencies and therefore counter insurgency'. “Counterinsurgency is very much a human activity. It cannot be conducted effectively without having a detailed understanding of the human terrain. This is a broad and complex subject which brings together sociology, political science, geography, regional studies, linguistics and Intelligence".

The manual then further explains the importance of understanding interest, power and authority, ideology, cultures and politics. Although this almost sounds fully intuitive, this can be interpreted as somewhat an overly simplistic view towards the understanding of the importance of human terrain and localization.Decision making especially to crucial decisions pertaining to an intelligence or military mission’s objectives against insurgencies follows firstly through understanding that of local intelligence, infiltration and informal decision makings of local authority brokers. For any intelligence chief however to even draft an intelligence plan, an intelligence plan be it taking in fundamentals of intelligence craft should also take in an equally important domain, that of quantitative analysis. What does quantitative analysis mean in this respect then? Perhaps in a broader sense of the definition it means the understanding of key quantitative systems in its functional use. What does quantitative systems mean then? If we’re interpreting in academia and excluding concrete terminology in sciences like mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology etc.… it is the nonlinear systems and the mathematical cause and effect tools associated with intelligence, governance, planning and its functional tools.

What specifically an intelligence official should know is the concept of non-linear functions, the use of numerical approaches in calculating detailed operational analysis and the understanding of fundamental concepts in statistics such as probability. Why is this important then? As much as intelligence craft and warfare is on the art side of strategic and tactical management, there is the quantitative and probability approach to planning. This may manifest in different names in different functional contexts. For example, in business, it may be called an environmental and a contingency plan. In intelligence it may be called a system analysis and in the military the operation deployment plan.Whatever the name of this functional tool for intelligence and military use, this tool depending on its interpretations of use has a large probabilistic and quantitative element. For example, say we are drawing up a deployment for an operation to target a village held by a warring party. The privy details are the same. The enemy is located around the village, we are located 2 kilometers from it, we have a reconnaissance unit at hill A, the enemy may have sentries between hill A and the village.

Although this in laymen view would be very resourceful in understanding a deployment plan in all actually this in its form has left out vital information. What are the enemies disposition for example? What type of mobility vehicles do they have? Where are their critical firing points? Where are the possible mobility route of their forces? and so on…. It is therefore that quantitative considerations can be used to calculate change. That specific on the functional use of limited functions and to ‘program’ functions to understand non-linear concepts to come to a reasonably forecast of possibilities. With this is also the importance of understanding the cause and effect and the objective based approach military planners have with a deployment plan with input that are equally or more important than focusing on solely quantitative based assumptions. Besides the aforementioned context intelligence is also about human intelligence operations on the back, front, middle ends. Intelligence operation may be taken into a multi- disciplined approach in functional disciplines not exclusively in the sense of softer subjects like psychology, sociology, terrorism studies but to that of say accounting, mathematics, statistics, engineering, economics, finance and so on.

As much for example, an officer is trained to understand fundamentals in the written descriptive elements of knowing your enemy and human terrain in the science of intelligence gathering at least it is important to understand quantitative analysis. The mainstream idea, of course, is that military participant work under a strict protocol of discipline and division of labour. The system of division of labour and efficiency is, therefore, the foundations of military standard operating procedures. However standard operating procedures often viewed as a basis of institution building and their practice with war is counter intuitive if it is over relied upon and fails to promote the facets of successful military operations. War in its most basic form is after all the collection of forces and their resources, their mobility and action which causes a specific or non specific outcome with relation to situational awareness. Numeracy implicates military science and technical literacy. However, it also implicates better understanding of efficiency, alternatives and methods of measurements. Perceptive numeracy is a critical skill in most scientific disciplines. These include geography, meteorology, chemistry, engineering and of course, mathematics. The population's numeracy of an area may go hand in hand with development of economic development.

This should also be emphasized with military development, especially of force 'enablers' of a military group. In Afghanistan, Iraq and the Philippines, it is their respective special forces units whom were the battle field enablers of success. The mobile and sporadic form of warfare is non-linear in its form and therefore requires a institution which can adapt to these circumstances. Therefore, this is the success of the so-called ''tier 2' doctrine. This is the development of more special warfare expertise over time and enabling force multiplication. It is this doctrine which has created enablers units in these respective countries to maintain the state. However, it is important to note that, there is little complementary example of another interesting counter insurgency enabling force. This is the so called special operations capable forces. This term is used for forces that may perform roles similar or the same to special operations. Although the concept is not well discussed, many Iraq and Afghanistan have developed capacity for raising the number of combat, technical and generally operationally literate forces. These include induction of techniques to increase mobility, small unit tactics, spatial awareness and resource efficient literacy. Therefore with these forces and other alternatives, such as special operations reserves, inducting conventional units into asymmetric roles, and creating special operations capable force, COIN forces can have a stronger human resource back bone.

The rise of Isil, and the possibility of a special operations capable force.

The rise of Isil, and the possibility of a special operations capable force. It was during the fall and end of 2014 that the subsequent events that have occurred in the preceding months took its geo political deposition in Iraq and its future. Isil captured Mosul in 2014 capturing the city with few resistant supposedly with less than 2000 men against the whim of supposedly 30 thousand Iraqi security forces. This was perhaps the most unprecedented military disaster at least in the 21st century history in terms of the geopolitical, military and cultural scope in which Isil became post 2014. If anyone was on Liveleak or Youtube searching the terms ‘Isis, Isis execution, Jihadi John, Syria war’ you’ll understand how captivating that a terror entity at this magnitude has become. Funnily enough it could be attributed to mismanagement that created the breeding for AQI. It was mismanagement that did not prevent terrorist networking in camp Bucca. It was mismanagement that the Iraq security force could not prevent the Isil’s gains in the northern Iraqi offensive. The fall of Mosul as is popularly known in the press and in the West, was the pivot to which that of localized, western and the Iraqi governments responses became as it was.

The fall and its subsequent events led to the military readiness of the Kurdistan regional government forces, the political fallout to that of Baghdad and the prime-minister's resignation. The sectarian clerics also spurred the mobilization of the quasi military entities known as the popular mobilization fronts. As the U.S feared the lightning, Blitzkrieg style assault into that of the area of its Kurdish regional government partners the air operations under operation inherent resolve began. As much as the fall of Mosul was a military disaster, it was also party caused by poor leadership and political interference in the military at least that is the narrative in hindsight. This narrative of mismanagement – be it financing, training, leadership, administrative and so on. The army performed as a societal institution and that of providing internal and external security against potential aggressors. If Iraq wants to look at how an effective conventional force deals with counter insurgencies, they only have to look across their own border to Syria. Syria is by no means a considerably war experienced nation before 2011 however since the beginning of the Syrian civil war the Syrian Arab army faced considerable strain in its operations under highly dynamic operation tempo across multiple fronts.

In some case around half a brigade may be surrounded and the brigade would continue to fight independently. Because of the morale, unity, leadership and professionalism of the Syrian Arab Army is considered to be immeasurable to the Iraqis in their effectiveness. The Iraqis, on the other hand, had a security force whom with which corruption occurred frequently. The ability of the officer core was also damaged due to political interference. Many officers were promoted not on the basis of meritocracy but based on internal and external politics. Discipline and soldiering standards were also very low which would have likely instilled a culture of neglect. It is this neglect that would foster low esprit de corps in which members of military units would not invest their contributions into their respective units. Therefore taking no part in the fighting during the fall of Mosul.

As war is becoming increasingly fast, changing and unpredictable, for a state to maintain future security it must consider how to best allocate its resources in combating insurgencies.

On the conventional side, allocating military funds and budget may seem to be a bad idea given the poor performance of Iraqi conventional forces in the past. Iraqi military spending is likely to have exceeded at the very least 20 billion dollars just on creating conventional formations, training, wages, military infrastructures and logistics. The figure may actually well possibly double, triple or even exceed 100 billion dollars. If you take into account of the American military training and spending between 2003 to 2009 the amount is almost immeasurable. To put into comparison, the counter terrorism service or CTS was established in 2006 with a far more modest expenditure of between 200 – 300 million dollars. CST's annual budget did not exceed over a few hundred million dollars and the force’s spending in 2017 amounted to approximately in between 600 to 700 million dollars. The Counter Terrorism Service initially began with the conceived objective clause to bring together, coordinate and synchronize all elements of resources pertaining to Countering Terrorism and especially to such entities as the AQI. Before the fall of 2014 the CTS political indifference, interference, poor management and sectarian division increasingly deterred military efficiency of the force.

However, during the Northern Iraq offensive and the Anbar campaign, it was the CTS which led the vanguard to almost every major operational and strategic offensive.

Given its role in the subsequent period after 2014, it is needless to say they were instrumental in not only preventing the collapse of Iraqi’s northern front but to re – organize and commit to the governments counter attack which ended in the recapture of Mosul. Given the wide scope of the CST's role Iraqi special operation forces ‘ISOF’ under CST's command have faced great attritional strains; casualty rates are very high, in some battle this rate go beyond 50 percent. Insurgent use vehicle bound improvised explosive device, VBIEDs, IEDs, mines, sniper, infiltration cells. This uncertainty and the enemy’s lack of risk aversions in these attacks created an extremely complex battlefield situation. Therefore attrition and replacement of casualties became increasingly relevant as priority especially to Urban warfare. The service had difficulty in finding and recruiting new recruits into their military framework. Training is extensive and attrition rates are high however the CTS also had to meet rigorously high demand quotas.

The terminology special operations capable force is rarely mentioned in modern military literature especially given its relevancy. The terminology instead might focus might focus on branding individual units as ‘specialized’, ‘elite ‘or some other similar term. Depending on the unit’s objective clause’s dispositions in training, recruitment, localization and equipment therefore it becomes irrelevant to account for these units under a single banner. The terminology of ‘special operations capable’ in the context the U.S military is the the conventional and unconventional role of the Marine Expeditionary Unit. These roles include, direct action, security assessments, reconnaissance and or long-range reconnaissance. These roles are highly intensive, risk based and individuals under these operations has to be trained, have the individual resource to carry out these objectives. Similarly, the Marine corps force reconnaissance or Recon is a SOC force specialized in deep reconnaissance, special reconnaissance and so on. It is there for these special operations capable force that the United States marine corps conducts its high intensity, tempo, duration and risk based missions without expanding that role to such resource scarce unit as the Marine Raiders. 

Although this terminology SOC is not frequently used. A unit which participates in high intensity and tempo operations may be by that definition defined as a SOC. For example, the U.S army rangers before its formal adoption of the term special operations force. Forces whom take on the high intensity, tempo operations and risk operations may differ significantly in their objectives, roles and composition in organization and training. For example light infantry division of the ‘Syrian Arab Army’ such as the 15 special forces divisions. The generalized re perquisite of effective light infantry are mobility, adaptiveness, and resilience to perform mobility based operations. Where as the Green Berets in the states focus on a broader political military doctrine of foreign internal defense. So, in this sense of the word SOC there is no concrete criteria other then that the units partake in high tempo, intensity and risk environments. Based on the premise of resource efficiency, it may be therefore wise to create a new Iraq Division based on this principle of having a special operations force. Not only was The Counter Terrorism Service itself a success in reducing the financial resources it was the CTS, not the conventional Iraqi formations that prevent Isis's military expansion.

The new SOC divisions can benefit from having and not exclusive to; 1. Economies of resources in organizational, logistics and the command structure of the Counter Terrorism Service; 2. A centralized formal and informal framework identification, recruitment and cultivation of prospective human resources; 3. The ability for Western SOF to create a centralized advice and assist effort on a transparent and full inclusive manner; 4. Be at the front of creating the next standard procedures for counter insurgencies; 5. Operate within multiple operation requirements and role; to reconnaissance; limited objective attacks; direct action, electronic warfare and signals; and so on. 6. Provide the basis for a strong esprit de corps and affinity to public security matters. The role of a new SOC division may importantly hinder anymore impractical spending on in – effective conventional formations. Other benefits of having a centralized SOC unit is minimizing corruption based practices in military civil administration, to deal with attrition warfare, to expand management and leadership archetypes to other Iraq de factor military forces. Last but not least is to have a central crisis formation to deal with any other future military emergency to the Iraqi state. Looking at the level of the Iraq ministry of defense, creating a light, mobile, special operations capable force could into that of other Iraqi military organizations. This be it in objective, structures, resources.

The concept of Numerical literacy should be emphasized in this organization to bridge the mental resource gap the Iraqi primary – secondary and military education levels. Numerical literacy is important to analyses standard operating procedures; that pertaining to a tactical and operations deployment plan. Numerical literacy and application should therefore be a distinctive factor in developing systems analysis. SOC forces can also be working towards operating under the doctrine of network centric warfare. Applying the maximum concentration of air surveillance, mobility via helicopter transport and precision weaponry in SOC missions; against an insurgency territory, this has already happened in Syria from the relatively under covered Russian advising, assistance and participation in combat missions against Isil and U.S backed rivals. The Russians initiative in the region should be seen to that of a success story in which military economies and direct participation of Russian personnel led to the military triumphs of the Syrian state. As Vincent R. Stewart, stated in February 2016, ‘the Russian reinforcements has changed the calculus completely’ this in respect to the Syrian geo - political assessment after the Russian intervention.

References list;

W.J Morrisey. 1992; USMC special operations capable concept ‘SOC’ concept; An alternative   approach; Stuttgart EUCOM Accessible at;

D. Witty. 2015; The Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service; Center for Middle Eastern policy; The Brookings Institute; available at ;

Z. Beauchamp. 2014; The one sentence that explains why Iraq is falling apart; available at;

Al Jazeera English. 2015; Enemy of Enemies. The rise of ISIL PART 2; Available at;

M. Knight. 2017; Predicting the shape of Iraq’s next insurgency; Combating terrorism center; Issue 7, volume 10.

M. Knight. 2016; The future of Iraq’s armed forces; Al – Bayan center; series 8

W. S. Lind; The changing face of war; into the fourth generation ; available at;

British Army. 2009. British army field manual volume 1 part 10; Counter Insurgency; Army code 71876 ; Ministry of Defense

R. McDemott. 2016. Russia’s network centric experiment in Syria ;  Volume 13 issue 76; Eurasian     daily monitor;


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