Small Wars Journal

Embracing the Fog of War: Assessment and Metrics in Counterinsurgency

A new RAND monograph from Ben Connable suggests that all those metrics may not be as metric as they seem.  Please note you can download the eBook for free at the RAND page.

Campaign assessments help decisionmakers in the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), Congress, and the executive branch shape what tend to be difficult and lengthy counterinsurgency (COIN) campaigns. Assessment informs critical decisions, including the allocation of resources and major shifts in strategy. The complex and chaotic environment of the typical COIN campaign presents vexing challenges to assessment, and efforts to overcome these challenges are mired in an overreliance on aggregated quantitative data that are often inaccurate and misleading. This comprehensive examination of COIN assessment as practiced through early 2011, as described in the literature and doctrine, and as applied in two primary case studies (Vietnam and Afghanistan), reveals weaknesses and gaps in this centralized, quantitative approach. The author proposes an alternative process — contextual assessment — that accounts for the realities of the COIN environment and the needs of both policymakers and commanders. Since this manuscript was completed in mid-2011, various elements of DoD have published new doctrine on assessment, some of which addresses criticisms raised in this report. The International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan has also revamped its assessment process.