Thursday, June 02, 2005


Over at Fester's place, he looks at some KIA/WIA numbers and draws some conclusions that might (or might not) be correct. I'm not an expert on that type analysis, and I recall what Mark Twain said about statistics.

This paragraph is interesting:
Why do I argue that a smaller force (even if compared only against the international troops) that is taking near unity fatalities is winning? Simply because it has always been far cheaper, easier and quicker for an insurgent force to regenerate than for a counterinsurgent force to regenerate. Additionally, it is highly probable that the vast majority of insurgent fatalities and incapacitations are coming from direct combat with American combat units. In this arena, the insurgents are trading roughly 5 total insurgents killed or incapacitated for every 4 US soldiers killed/incapacitated.

From my reading about the current warfighting dynamic, it seems that the terrorists are fighting mainly from ambuscade. The terrorists have learned that they can't fight head-to-head with coalition forces because they sustain unacceptable losses in a setpiece battlefield. The US is damned good at that type of fighting. They sustain losses when the coalition performs law-enforcement type sweeps, due to personnel captured. The only option left to them is the ambush and that is the way they seem to have been fighting lately.

I have some small expertise in the classic infantry ambush and the mechanized armor ambush, and I am here to tell you that in every ambush scenario I have been privy to, it is highly planned, thoroughly equipped and completely rehearsed. In the ambush, the freedom of action (initiative) and the time of the attack (surprise) are totally in the hands of the person springing the ambush. If I am the person springing the ambush, then I have the responsibility for the safety of the whole operation. If I think that my losses will be unacceptable, then I don't spring the ambush. I lay in my hole and let the opposing forces go on past my position. I live to fight another day.

If I decide that conditions are favorable and I spring the ambush, then I am willing to take casualties, but the nature of having initiative and surprise is such that my casualties should be about 10% of the opposing forces. To summarize, I am willing to lose one soldier for every ten of theirs I kill.

If the shoe is on the other foot and my force is being ambushed, then there are certain things that I can do, mainly in the form of immediate action drills that have proven to minimize casualties and sway the initiative to my forces. I hope that if I am ambushed I can inflict casualties on the opposing force, but I realize that I am probably going to have to accept casualties to gain the initiative. I also realize that if I do nothing, I am going to accept casualties. So doing nothing is not an option.

So, to summarize, in a properly planned, supplied and rehearsed ambush, I am probably going to escape with no casualties, and might sustain one casualty for every ten I inflict on my adversary. If the terrorists are trading four casualties for every five US casualties, then they are doing something terribly wrong, and I am very glad that they don't know warfighting. No force can sustain casualties like that for long.

Hat tip to YRHT for the link.


Anonymous said...

Other adidtional explanations:

1) US forces are avoiding being easy ambush targets. IIRC, the number of patrols dropped by 40% a year ago or so; if commanders are smart, they trimmed all unnecessary patrols through the more hazardous spots. The byproducts would be reduced casualties (for the same level of enemy effort) but also giving the guerrillas more freedom to operate.

2) US forces have far better equipment. Having at least some armored vehicles allows
faster and deadlier counterattacks. This means that it would be hard for the guerrillas to do destruction ambushes.

3) Excellent medical efforts. This has been pointed out before, that that wounded/killed ratio doubled from Gulf War I levesl. This would be aided by an envrionment of short, small battles with little enemy anti-air capability.

fester said...

PawPaw: Thanks for some good thoughts and comments here --- however I think that the historical argument that you are making " No force can sustain casualties like that for long." seems to be wrong as the insurgency has been going on for two + years now and from the original base of 5,000 or so active shooters, the shooter base, even with casualities, captures, etc. has more than tripled in that time frame.

On a tactical level I have no expertise or ability to dispute what you are saying, but from an operational/strategic level of analysis an insurgent force that is inflicting 1:1 incapacitation rates against the US is doing damn well for itself, especially as the US is better trained, vastly better armored, with vastly more "oh shit, we need to get out of here" firepower, and greatly superior medical care.

fester said...

Let me make a couple of assumptions and then some further guestimentations:

The ideal engagement from the US point of view is one where the full weight of the superior US ability to utilize heavy direct and indirect firepower, tactical aerial surveillance, tactical mobility and armor against relatively fixed and distinctly identifiable targets. In situations like this, the US should be enjoying kill rates of 30 to 100:1 against a light infantry force with poor fire discipline, little armor, and minimal large scale (battalion or greater) command and control ability.

The ideal engagement for the insurgents is one in which they can rapidly disengage and fade away before the US can utilize heavy armor and attack aviation assets to pound fixed positions.

The longer the engagement against US forces goes on, the worse it is for the insurgents so in an ambush situation where a US platoon gets hit, if it can seize enough momemtum and find some good firing positions to fix the ambushers in place for half an hour, the full weight of a brigade's or division's assets can start to be brought to bear.

So the insurgents against US forces should be sniping, should be shooting and scooting with mortars/rockets against US fixed positions, IED attacks with command detonated munitions etc. The ideal US op is a combined arms battalion or brigade sized sweep.

In May there was at least one major combined arms US sweep (Op Matador) where, if we are to fully believe DOD spokesmen, the insurgents sustained 125+ dead, and by my guesstimates 125+ wounded to the point of incapacitation, or roughly 50% of their entire incapacitation figures for the month. The US lost 9 dead and roughly 40 wounded in this sweep, of which I am assuming roughly 20 were severely wounded. So Op. Matador saw US strength in threatre descend by 30 between dead and long term hospitalization. Or in easier terms by about 8% of their total incapacitations in the month of May.

If we are to assume, as I did in my orginal post, that 70% of insurgent casualties were inflicted in direct combat with US forces, then when the insurgents could fight closer to their preferred style and away from the US preferred style, they lost roughly 120 (60 dead, 60 sev. wounds) men to inflict another 60 US dead AND 300 or so long term hospitalizations.

What does this mean: When the US can find fixed positions to utilize an overwhelming firepower advantage, the US sees a very favorable exchange rate (despite not being able to occupy the terrain later). When the insurgency can fight in a style that works for them, they see a favorable exchange rate.

Right now, IF (a Big IF) my assumptions hold true, the insurgents are better able to pick their fights than the US can find and fix to destroy with maneuver and fire later on.

oyster said...

Great discussion y'all have generated!

Nice one!

Pawpaw said...

What does this mean: When the US can find fixed positions to utilize an overwhelming firepower advantage, the US sees a very favorable exchange rate (despite not being able to occupy the terrain later). When the insurgency can fight in a style that works for them, they see a favorable exchange rate.

Doesn't mean anything. There is more than one way to skin a cat, and the principles of war apply to everyone. When the coalition can fix the enemy, they are able to bring the whole combined arms team to bear. When that happens, the coalition wins. It takes time to focus that power, though, about a minute for artillery, longer for air assets. If the coalition has a tank on the ground, that gun is brought to bear immediately.

If the terrorists fight from ambush then run away, the combined arms team isn't able to engage them and the engagement is limited to whatever forces are on the ground at the time. Most ambush scenarios happen extremely quick. Less than a minute from the first round to the last. What the terrorists want to do is to hit the coalition quickly, kill everyone in the kill zone, then leave immediately. If they hang around much longer, they run the risk of being fixed by the coalition forces, so the basic tactic is to shoot, then escape.

However, the US Army has doctrinal drills that small units can rehearse to minimize casualties. Without going into the tactics, these drills have proven effective in other theatres and are effective everywhere. Small units need to practice these drills, and I'm sure our troops on the ground are intimately familiar with them.

fester said...

PawPaw: I think that we are talking at different levels of analysis. I am looking at operational trends that seem (based on single source information) to indicate that the insurgents are able to pick the fights that they want to fight more often than the US is able to conduct deliberate assaults that can fully maximize the power and flexibility of a combined arms task force while you are focusing on the squad/platoon level. Both levels of analysis are good and valuable, but I am doing OR and you are doing pre battle rattle and AAR reviews.

We agree that when the US can pour things on, which it can do quickly, odds favor the US greatly, and that the preferred insurgent tactics are shoot and scoot from a variety of positions and with a variety of platforms.

And it means somthing very simple; the US is on the reaction most of the time; it is reacting to an ambush, it is reacting to intel, it is creating lag times that let the insurgents choose whether or not to stand and fight (thus most likely die) or withdraw and then reinfilitrate later on.

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