Small Wars Journal

Counterinsurgency Math Revisited

Wed, 01/03/2018 - 2:25pm

Counterinsurgency Math Revisited by A. Trevor Thrall and Erik Goepner - Cato Institute

When does 32,200 – 60,000 = 109,000? That seemingly inaccurate equation represents the estimated number of Islamist-inspired terrorists when the war on terror began, how many the U.S. has killed since 2015, and the number that fight today. And it begs the question of just how can the terror ranks grow so fast when they’re being depleted so rapidly.

As early as 2003, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld hinted at the potential mathematical problem when he asked, “Are we capturing, killing, or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?” In his memo, Mr. Rumsfeld correctly identified that both sides have a vote: the U.S. can deplete the terror ranks, while the terror groups and their supporters can replenish them.

What Rumsfeld had not yet imagined, however, was the possibility that military force might inadvertently benefit terror recruitment efforts. Specifically, he ignored the blowback a marauding U.S. military might engender among the Muslim world…

Read on.



Wed, 08/17/2022 - 12:14pm

I am studying in the math lessons statistics about terrorism acts. I have some trouble with calculus in statistics and probability. Fortunately, I find the answer to any high school problems on to get help with my algebra issues. Therefore, any counter issue isn't a difficulty for me anymore because the Plainmath source provides solutions.

Bill C.

Thu, 01/04/2018 - 1:45pm

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

Much like counter-terrorism, the U.S./the West's late 1940's-initiated strategy of "containment of communism," after that date and up until about 1989, seems to have -- as a strategy -- failed miserably; herein, rendering similar negative mathematical results such as those we see today re: CT:


At its zenith -- just before the 1989-91 collapse of Eastern European socialism, and the Soviet Union -- the reach of Communist-style governments stretched across Eurasia from Berlin and Prague to Vladivostok and Shanghai, and from the frozen Siberian tundra down to Indochina; additional Communist outposts could be found in the New World (Cuba) and in sub-Saharan Africa (Ethiopia). In 1980, the world’s seventeen established Marxist-Leninist states presided over roughly 1.5 billion subjects (out of a total world population of approximately 4.4 billion). At that apogee, over a third of humanity lived under regimes that professed the “communist” intent: and the encompassed populations represented a tremendous variety of cultures, ethnicities, levels of material attainment, and demographic structures.


This being the case (communists/communism grows/expands exponentially throughout the world during our period of "containment") -- and given our ultimate victory (communists/communism is reduced to what we see today) -- should we consider that there may, indeed, yet be some kind of method to our, otherwise understood, apparent madness?

Robert C. Jones

Thu, 01/04/2018 - 8:56am

CT makes sense, for all of it's failures to achieve desired strategic results based on how "the experts" have framed the problem for the past 16-20 years.

The experts are wrong, but there is now a massive industry built around that wrongness, so our assumptions have become calcified as "fact."

Or, in other terms, we have defined as strategic dynamic in tactical terms, and are thereby put into a reactive cycle of attacking the symptoms. The result of this is to put more negative energy into the actual problem, that has reasonably, and predictably, grown as a result.

The latest "defeat" of ISIS converts civil war back into revolution(temporarily); and will restore AQ as the influence leader of the broader UW campaign that relies upon revolutionary energy resident within Sunni Arab populations in varying degrees everywhere. The cycle continues...

I would love to be a back-bencher at a “murder-board” of our GWOT efforts & to hear the ideas that may be put forth to counter AQ/ ISIS/ Hezbollah/ etc, etc… Given the ineffectiveness of 17 years of “whack-a-mole”, I wonder what would be proposed...?