The Best Defense

Kilcullen (II): How to tell the effect of your operations on the population

Back to David Kilcullen's essay on what works in counterinsurgency, what doesn't, and how to tell the difference.

But first, a couple of points in response to yesterday's rasher of comments. First, to my knowledge, the paper hasn't been published anywhere -- but I'll skate as close to the copyright laws as I can and give you a good overview. Second, Kilcullen isn't out to attack all metrics, just bad metrics. Which leads us to the point of today's post. Yesterday, he told you why he dismisses certain metrics as unhelpful. Today, he discusses how to tell what effect your operations are  having on the people:

  • "Voluntary reporting." How many tips are you getting from the population? And how many of them are unsolicited? He warns that this metric must be assessed in the context of how many tips pan out. The more accurate the tips, the more confidence the population has in your and your allies in the host government.
  • "IEDs reported versus IEDs found." This one took me a moment to get my mind around. "Accurate reporting indicates that the population is willing to act voluntarily to protect the security forces." Variations in this rate may be a good indicator of local support for security forces and the government, he says.
  • "Prices of exotic vegetables" and "Transportation prices." Now we are getting into the nitty gritty. Anything that embarrasses your S-3 as he discusses it in the briefing probably is a good metric. Until now most of DK's recommendations have been more or less rooted in common sense. But to understand this weird one, you need to understand local conditions. What people are paying for vegetables grown outside their district is a quick indicator of road security. Trucking companies factor in the risks they face, as well as the cost of bribes and other forms of corruption. So variations over time may be a helpful indicator of trends in public perception of security conditions and the corruption level of government security forces.
  • "Progress of NGO construction projects." A better indicator than government-sponsored works, which, he notes, "the insurgents may attack on principle." NGO projects go well when materials prices are stable, the labor supply is adequate, and security problems aren't interfering.
  • "Influence of Taliban versus government courts." If the locals trust the Taliban-run courts more than the government's, you have a problem. How many cases are each handling in a given district?
  • "Participation rate in programs." Both the government and the Taliban have a variety of economic and community programs. Which are more popular?
  • "Taxation collection." What is the compliance rate with government taxes, vs. Taliban taxes?  
  • "Afghan-on-Afghan violence." Unlike sigacts against coalition forces, he says, this is a good measure of public security.
  • "Rate of new business formation and loan repayment." A good indicator of public confidence. He notes that Afghans tend to have a low rate of business formation but a high rate of repayment.
  • "Urban construction new start rate." Another good indicator of confidence in a given area.
  • "Percentage of local people with secure title to their house and land." This one really surprised me. Kilcullen says that the Taliban has used land disputes adroitly, sometimes settling them justly to further their influence, and at other times exacerbating them to gain the allegiance of one side. The higher the percentage of secure titles in a given area, the less chance for the Taliban to step in and exploit the situation. Can you imagine being a new battalion commander in the area trying to keep up with this stuff? Tribes, women, feuds, land disputes, religion -- it is just too hillbilly for me. Where is Andrew Exum when you need him? Probably off writing up the new policy for Afghanistan.


The Best Defense

Time to talk: It takes a tough soldier to go public about the urge to kill himself

Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Samuel Rhodes is the subject of a good article about how two tours in Iraq stripped him of his marriage and peace of mind, and nearly his life by his own hand. At one point in Iraq he tied himself to his own bunk.

He has gone public to help other soldiers. "It's not about me. ... Every one of us can tell our own story. Start telling it. Change the culture of silence." He emphasizes how important a few kind words can be at the right time. Keep that in mind, little grasshoppers.

U.S. Army