Measuring the Insurgency

NPR’s Morning Edition led with “Gauging the Strength of the Iraq Insurgency” today. Army Lt. Gen. John Vines suggests the following potential measures: “numbers of attacks, numbers of tips, flow of foreign fighters, which is quite small. It is relatively static; it is not growing, not spreading.” He additionally suggests that the insurgency’s increased lethality does not necessarily imply that its size has increased.

Jeffrey White, former chief of Middle East intelligence for the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency, (who let it be said has a great radio voice) mentions that the payouts for insurgents to plant bombs has decreased from around $500 to $125 [dates and types of attack are unclear]. Interpretation of such a change is difficult to make. Potential explanations include (1) an increase in the supply of insurgents willing to plant bombs, and (2) decrease in the demand for bombs supplied by the market mechanism. While others exist, these are the two most likely, and both point towards problems. The first is obviously bad for counter-insurgency, unless it represents insurgents leaving non-market (i.e. ideological) groups for the market, which seems unlikely.* The second would represent an advance for counter-insurgency if there were a decline in the number of bombings and other attacks. Given that there has not been such a decrease, the overall demand for attacks does not seem to have decreased – just the use of an economic market for such attacks.

* – Why does this seem unlikely? Because the US has to have the resources to outspend the funders of the insurgency. Of course, if we started paying off potential insurgents, then everyone would have an incentive to claim to be an insurgent….

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