Category Iraq

The Easy Button

Second to three recent articles from William (Chip) Sayers. The conclusions are his:


The Easy Button

In the 1960s and 70s, the Soviet Union began exporting tactical and short-range ballistic missiles to its client states around the world. These missiles were developed as nuclear warhead carriers, so why give them to, for instance, Egypt, Iraq and North Korea? None of the countries were developing nuclear weapons, and Moscow wouldn’t have wanted these wild cards to do so at the time. All of these missiles had conventional warhead versions, and that’s what the Soviets were exporting, but they were so inaccurate as to make them virtually useless in the eyes of Western military analysts. A Soviet Combined Arms or Tank Army had three battalions of four R-17 Scud B launchers in their Table of Organization and Equipment, and they provided the army commander with a dedicated and powerful nuclear weapons capability. However, with a Circular Error Probable of 450m, twelve rockets with 1,000kg conventional warheads were highly unlikely to put even one within the effective blast radius of a point target.[1]

According to probability theory, half of the warheads would land within the CEP radius of the system, 93.7% within 2 CEPs, 99.8% within 3 CEPs and the balance within 4 CEPs. The Scud’s warhead can damage reinforced concrete buildings within an area of 7,854m2, compared to the 450m CEP which encompasses an area of 636,172m2. The Mean Area of Effectiveness (MAE) of the six warheads combined only cover about 7% of the total area of the CEP circle not particularly promising odds for hitting a point target.[2] 

While Western eyes would see this as a waste of time, the Soviets (and now the Russians) would look at it differently. The “War of the Cities” during the Iran/Iraq war — when the two sides used short-range ballistic missiles to indiscriminately bombard each other’s urban areas — offers considerable insight into the current war in Ukraine. The accuracy of the Scud B was obviously insufficient for most military targets. In this case, however, entire cities were the targets — as they are, today. Between 1984 and 1988, Iraq and Iran exchanged attacks on each other’s major population centers with fixed-wing aircraft, Tactical and SRBM attacks in a campaign of what can only be called Douhetian strategic bombing. The target for both sides was not military or industrial infrastructure, leadership or command/control capabilities. It was quite simply the enemy’s people. The aim was to inflict as much pain and destruction as possible on them to destroy their will to continue the war. While thousands of civilians were killed and wounded (Iran admitted to over 10,000 deaths, alone), both country’s efforts seemingly failed. 

However, it is never easy to say for sure what the impact is of operations aimed at influencing the enemy’s psychology. All of warfare is essentially intended to get inside the enemy’s head, be it via influence operations or sheer destruction of the enemy’s forces. Campaigns rarely, if ever, end in annihilation — at some point, the enemy’s will is broken and he gives ground or surrenders. For example, it is a myth that the strategic bombing of Britain, Germany and Japan during WWII was counterproductive, resulting in a strengthening of the public’s desire to resist the attackers. In fact, in all three cases, public morale declined substantially and industrial production was suppressed even in factories that were not bombed. Defeatism and absenteeism soared. Britain was not subjected to an effective and sustained campaign, but in Germany and Japan it is likely that their respective secret police forces were the major factor in keeping a lid on a possible revolt of the kind that resulted in the withdrawal from fighting by Russia and Germany in WWI.

Neither Iraq, nor Iran had the wherewithal to mount a sustained campaign — a small inventory of weapons on both sides ensured that the war of the cities could only be fought in fits and starts — nevertheless, Tehran was reportedly so damaged in the last months of the war that as many as 1 million of its 6 million residents left the capital city. There was also a great deal of fear that Iraq would start arming its Scuds with chemical warheads — a particular terror for civilians with no access to protective equipment. It is uncertain how much influence the war of the cities had on the mind of the Ayatollah or the Majles, but between that, a rejuvenated Iraqi Air Force and battlefield reverses, Ayatollah Khomeini was moved to “drink the chalice of poison,” and agree to end the war.

In 1995, the Russians went full scorched earth in Grozny, though their purpose in razing the city was tactical, rather than strategic: they used it as a tactic for clearing the city of insurgents, not breaking the will of the Chechen people and leadership. The results were much the same for the city, however.

Fast forward to the current war in Ukraine. When their coup de main on Kiev failed, the Russians fell back on their old tricks of attempting to flatten cities to demoralize their enemies into submission.  And that’s where things stand, today.

For the last thirty years, the Russians have talked up the accuracy of their tactical and short-range ballistic missiles, referring to them as precision weapons. Russian claims notwithstanding, photos of Ukrainian cities show plain evidence that civilian residences and infrastructure have suffered massively from the besieger’s bombardment. Entire neighborhoods of apartment buildings are rubbled and burned out. The Russians claim this to be collateral damage, but if the Russian missiles have “pin-point” accuracy, that shouldn’t occur on such a scale as this. The implication is that the apartment complexes, schools and hospitals are the targets. Deliberately targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure is a war crime. On the other hand, if the accuracy of Russian missiles is so poor that it takes this much destruction to hit legitimate targets, then the bombardment is indiscriminate, and that is a war crime, too. Either way, Western governments should drop the pretenses and treat Putin as what he is: a war criminal.

This begs the question as to why Putin is using such weapons to prosecute his war. To put it bluntly, he can’t trust his Air Force to do it. Russian fixed-wing bombers are not sufficiently accurate, their crews are not sufficiently well trained, and they are too vulnerable to Ukrainian air defenses to be survivable. So, they are stuck with delivering stand-off missiles from the safety of Russian territory. Again, these weapons are claimed to have great accuracy, but there is little evidence to back up these assertions. 

So, what’s going on here? Why all the seeming contradictions?  There are three possibilities. First, Russian missiles just aren’t that accurate and they’ve been making false claims in order to boost arms sales. This is probably the likeliest explanation and fits well with the possibility that they are using relatively low-cost munitions to bombard Ukrainian cities. Second, the Russians may be pressing into service high-precision and expensive missiles in a role they are ill-suited for. To wit: they are dumbing-down or removing their guidance systems to allow for a more traditional random bombardment — an expensive way to do the job. Third, the Russians are really hitting what they are aiming at with great precision. Apartment buildings are being targeted as though they were factories with specific aimpoints chosen to make for maximum destruction.

In the months prior to D-Day in June 1944, Gen. Eisenhower directed that all Allied heavy bombers in theater target railroad marshalling yards in France and Belgium to hinder the ability of German reinforcements to make it to the lodgment area. USAAF commanders believed their bombers could make a better contribution to success by bombing strategic targets in Germany and offered the fact that they couldn’t prevent French and Belgium casualties, given that marshaling yards tended to be located near the city centers. Eventually, the French and Belgian governments in exile authorized the strikes, believing the good they did would outweigh the civilian deaths they would cause, and while there is some question on how effective the strikes actually were, they caused much less collateral damage than had been feared. If Russian missiles are simply inaccurate and the proportion of collateral damage was reasonable compared to the damage caused to legitimate military targets, their actions might be seen as justifiable. However, the damage to civilian areas clearly isn’t reasonable. Further, tampering with guidance systems or the deliberate targeting of precision weapons against civilian targets would be evidence of a coldly calculated crime. The Hague should be warming up a cell for Mr. Putin.

The intriguing train of thought from this problem, however, is what happens next with precision-guided missiles? The US GMLRS, HIMARS and ATACMS systems have long proven that surface-to-surface missiles with GPS guidance can strike with great precision with relatively little technical investment. While their Russian counterpart systems have not, for whatever reason, shown this level of accuracy, it is clear that Moscow’s weaponry should be able to do so, if not now, certainly in the near future. It is simply not that difficult to do. Iran has claimed to have achieved a 50m CEP with some of their SRBMs. While this is, perhaps, a dubious assertion now, it is inevitable that nearly every nation that desires so may have access to weapons of such range and accuracy at some point in the near future. What are the implications? Several come to mind.

  1. From the illustration above, it is easy to see that a Scud-sized warhead with a 50m CEP would virtually guarantee target destruction when two are fired at a single target. The commander presses a button and the target goes away.  While high-precision SRBMs may be relatively expensive, they are a bargain for a country without a first-class air force. 
  2. This is in contrast to dependence upon an indifferently trained aircrew with elementary tactics, obsolescent weapons and aircraft having to penetrate lethal air defenses before making a low-probability of success attack. SRBMs don’t get scared or refuse a mission because of difficult circumstances, or because they disagree with their political leadership. The necessity of training and maintaining an expensive and unreliable air force is eliminated, as well — at least with regard to the air-to-ground mission. A similar savings could be made by substituting Surface-to-Air missiles for fighter-interceptors in the air-to-air role.
  3. The ensuing cost to success ratio is likely to tempt the use of high-precision ballistic missiles to solve problems that otherwise might be addressed through diplomacy, economic pressure, or other means short of violence. One could easily envision even policing actions being undertaken through the use of missiles: a wanted criminal or political adversary is located taking sanctuary in a nearby uncooperative country, the leadership doesn’t waste time arguing about extradition, he presses his “Easy Button” and obliterates the residence the wanted fugitive is occupying. Problem solved. An economic rival is pumping too much oil for your taste?  Press the Easy Button and make some unmanned pumping stations go away. Problem solved. A rival’s fishing fleet encroaching in your exclusive economic zone? The Easy Button makes some trawlers mysteriously disappear in the night and the problem is solved.

While it is easy to come up with dozens of scenarios where precision married to long-range weapons can be useful, the difficult part is developing a useful doctrine to employ them to maximum effect. Destroying a group of targets will have an impact, though limited to the additive effect of their individual values. Destroying the same number of targets according to an effective and well thought-out plan will have multiplicative effect far beyond the value of the individual elements. The whole will be much greater than the sum of its parts. What is required is an airpower doctrine — missile warfare is the purist, most fundamental form of airpower. However, there is only one military force in the world that has thoroughly explored airpower doctrine and that is the US Air Force. 

The only countries with the elements required to develop a viable airpower doctrine (a truly independent air force, an air force of sufficient size as to explore and test ideas while continuing to meet defense obligations, an academic plant of sufficient independence to develop suitable doctrine, an industrial base capable of designing and manufacturing the necessary tools, etc.) are all strong allies of the US, and none of them has an air force of sufficient size to realistically execute such a doctrine on their own. None of our adversaries has those elements necessary to do so, so it is likely that whatever precision ballistic missile attacks they execute will be done so with suboptimal, less than decisive effect.

The upshot is that without a vital, robust and well-founded doctrine, these weapons will not be capable of fulfilling their potential, but will rather merely become long-range artillery. They may be capable of great destruction, they are unlikely to ever become decisive unless wielded with an educated hand.

The Japanese Navy began World War II with an excellent submarine fleet armed with a revolutionary torpedo that actually worked, unlike those of virtually every other navy. In contrast, the US Navy fielded obsolescent boats (albeit, with superbly trained crews) armed with virtually worthless torpedoes. Over the course of the war, the US submarine service proved decisive in the defeat of Japan by cutting off Japanese transport of vital resources and troops to the home islands. The Japanese submarine force, by contrast, contributed very little to the overall war effort. The difference was doctrine. The Japanese wasted their assets on scouting for their battleline, while virtually ignoring the US lines of communications that ran across vast stretches of ocean. US submarines interdicted Japanese LOCs — vital for linking the home islands with the natural resources they went to war over in the first place.

If someone manages to marry the new, high-precision SRBMs with a solid, well thought out doctrine, we will move from an age of warfare where missiles are used, to a true age of missile warfare.  That would be a real “revolution in military affairs.”


[1] Missile Defense Project, “SS-1 “Scud”,” Missile Threat, Center for Strategic and International Studies, August 11, 2016, last modified August 2, 2021,

[2] Weapon Data Fire Impact Explosion, Final Edition September 1945, Osrd No. 6053, Division 2, National Defense Research Committee Office Of Scientific Research And Development.


P.S.: Some related past posts:

TDI Friday Read: Iranian Casualties In The 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War | Mystics & Statistics (

VVS View of Air Superiority | Mystics & Statistics (



Presentations from HAAC – Close Combat Overmatch Weapons

The fifth event of the second day in the Pike & Gallows Conference Room was a presentation by Joe Follansbee (Col., USA, ret) on a proposed Close Combat Overmatch Weapon. This came about because of his experiences in Iraq. We will publish more about this later, but do not have a presentation on it at the moment.

The first presentation of the day was my monstrosity, Iraq, Data, Hypotheses and Afghanistan (which I later turned into the book America’s Modern Wars): NIC Compilation 3.1

The second presentation of the day was Lessons Learned from Haiti 1915-1934 by Dr. Christopher Davis of UNCG: History as an Enemy and Instructor

The third presentation of the day was Estimating War Deaths (in Iraq) by Dr. Michael Spagat of Royal Holloway University of London: Iraq Deaths

We then had a group discussion on whether we could have won the war in Afghanistan. I opened the discussion with a brief 12-slide presentation, built from my original presentation that morning. It is here: Could We Have Won


We had a total of 30 presentations given at the first Historical Analysis Annual Conference (HAAC). We have the briefing slides from most of these presentations. Over the next few weeks, we are going to present the briefing slides on this blog, maybe twice a week (Tuesdays and Thursday). In all cases, this is done with the permission of the briefer. We may later also post the videos of the presentations, but these are clearly going to have to go to another medium ( We will announce when and if these are posted.

The briefings will be posted in the order given at the conference. The conference schedule is here: Schedule for the Historical Analysis Annual Conference (HAAC), 27-29 September 2022 – update 16 | Mystics & Statistics (

The nine presentations given on the first day are all here: Presentations from HAAC – Air Combat Analysis on the Eastern Front in 1944-45 | Mystics & Statistics (

Presentations from HAAC – Estimating War Deaths (in Iraq)

The third presentation of the second day was by Dr. Michael Spagat, an American scholar that teaches at the Royal Holloway University of London. It is called “Estimating War Deaths (in Iraq):” Iraq Deaths

Dr. Spagat has been focused on examining all casualties in war, and sometimes this has led him to publicly question some of the estimates that other people have provided. It is not unusual to see estimates of combat casualties inflated by an order of magnitude, and by the same token, sometimes civilian casualties get estimated at an order of magnitude higher than what they probably are. Getting a better estimate does not diminish the tragedy nor change the story. I do feel that inflated estimates actually undermine the authenticity of the story; but more to the point, facts-are-facts and data-is-data and this stuff is actually important. Anyhow, I am a big fan of Dr. Spagat’s work as demonstrated by this series of threads I posted in 2017 that I think all readers of this blog should take a look at: TDI Friday Read: Mike Spagat’s Economics of Warfare Lectures & Commentaries | Mystics & Statistics (

The first presentation of the day was my monstrosity, Iraq, Data, Hypotheses and Afghanistan (which I later turned into the book America’s Modern Wars): NIC Compilation 3.1

The second presentation of the day was Lessons Learned from Haiti 1915-1934 by Dr. Christopher Davis of UNCG: History as an Enemy and Instructor


We had a total of 30 presentations given at the first Historical Analysis Annual Conference (HAAC). We have the briefing slides from most of these presentations. Over the next few weeks, we are going to present the briefing slides on this blog, maybe twice a week (Tuesdays and Thursday). In all cases, this is done with the permission of the briefer. We may later also post the videos of the presentations, but these are clearly going to have to go to another medium ( We will announce when and if these are posted.

The briefings will be posted in the order given at the conference. The conference schedule is here: Schedule for the Historical Analysis Annual Conference (HAAC), 27-29 September 2022 – update 16 | Mystics & Statistics (

The nine presentations given on the first day are all here: Presentations from HAAC – Air Combat Analysis on the Eastern Front in 1944-45 | Mystics & Statistics (

Presentations from HAAC – Iraq, Data, Hypotheses and Afghanistan

Attached is the first presentation for the second day of the conference. It was an old presentation that I gave at the National Intelligence Council (NIC) back in 2008. It was still relevant: NIC Compilation 3.1. Most of this is discussed in my book America’s Modern Wars.


We had a total of 30 presentations given at the first Historical Analysis Annual Conference (HAAC). We have the briefing slides from most of these presentations. Over the next few weeks, we are going to present the briefing slides on this blog, maybe twice a week (Tuesdays and Thursday). In all cases, this is done with the permission of the briefer. We may later also post the videos of the presentations, but these are clearly going to have to go to another medium ( We will announce when and if these are posted.

The briefings will be posted in the order given at the conference. The conference schedule is here: Schedule for the Historical Analysis Annual Conference (HAAC), 27-29 September 2022 – update 16 | Mystics & Statistics (

The nine presentations given on the first day are all here: Presentations from HAAC – Air Combat Analysis on the Eastern Front in 1944-45 | Mystics & Statistics (

Body Counts – What Can They Tell Us?

A new posting from William (Chip) Sayers. This is his tenth post here. He will be presenting at our Historical Analysis conference: Who’s Who at HAAC – part 1 | Mystics & Statistics ( and Schedule of the Historical Analysis Annual Conference (HAAC), 27-29 September 2022 – update 13 | Mystics & Statistics (

——————-William (Chip) Sayers————————–

Body Counts – What Can They Tell Us?

There has been a lot of back and forth on the web lately about how many casualties Russia has taken in Ukraine, how much equipment they’ve lost and how they are going to replace those troops and weapons. I’ve decided it’s time to look into this subject and bring my own experiences to the table. 

In Vietnam, these kind of metrics seemed to have no utility other than to corrupt the officer corps with fake and exaggerated body counts, or worse, counting dead civilians as combatants. Or so the legends say. Gen. Westmorland demanded a high body count, so that’s what he got. And while the numbers looked impressive, it eventually became apparent that the numbers weren’t tied to anything concrete. Would another 50,000 North Vietnamese dead cause Ho Chi Minh to capitulate? Another 100,000? In the end, Hanoi admitted they had lost a million men in their bid to take over the South. Clearly, Uncle Ho was ready to fight to the last North Vietnamese soldier. When your opponent’s pain threshold is that high, the body count really doesn’t tell you anything. Or so it would seem.

In the aftermath of Operation DESERT STORM in 1991, various interested parties were pushing the Pentagon for a casualty count on the Iraqi side. I’m sure some wanted to thump their chests over the “kill ratio” between Iraqi casualties and the ludicrously low figures on the Allied side; while others apparently wanted to use the presumably large number of Iraqi losses to highlight the wanton brutality of the campaign we had pursued. The obvious source, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of Coalition Forces, wasn’t interested in sharing numbers. Schwarzkopf was a field-grade infantry officer during the Vietnam War and he had seen the dark side of body counts and wanted no part of them. While there would be little of the corrosive effect on the officer corps after a short, victorious war, he also knew how badly the US Army’s credibility had suffered over the issue in Vietnam. There would be no body count from Operation DESERT STORM.

The question, then, got punted over to Defense Intelligence Agency where I was working at the time. I know the analyst who had to respond and I know that he basically made up a number out of whole cloth to get the action off his desk during a very busy time. If I recall correctly, that number was 100,000, with no distinction between killed or wounded, or if they were all KIA, as reported by some in the media. I had Col Dupuy’s model in hand and had used it to support my team’s effort during the war, so I could have come up with a far more reasonable estimate, but no one asked me. Some months later, another analyst I knew wrote an article for Foreign Affairs on the Iraqi casualty account. He rightly derided the 100,000 estimate. However, he made his estimate by counting vehicles destroyed and multiplying by crew capacity—certainly more reasonable than a complete WAG, but unlikely to be very accurate—particularly as most destroyed Iraqi vehicles had already been abandoned by their crews. So far as I’m aware, no one has ever done a serious, forensic study of the question since then and basically, nothing has been learned or understood about Iraqi casualties from ODS.

Flash forward 12 years: A few months after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, a couple of colleagues and I were asked to do a study of the nascent Sunni insurgency and come up with tips the U.S. Army could use to protect its personnel from ambushes. For my part, I went back to a series of “How we did it” monographs the Army put out in 1971-1974 in that brief period of time when we were looking at our efforts in Vietnam as a victory. After 1975, no one in the Army wanted to hear anything about Vietnam, and this series of monographs went into dusty archives, presumably never to see the light of day. In large measure, I was simply feeding the Army its own forgotten history, and they were very happy to receive it. 

Over the course of the project, I created a database from the Army’s information about various incidents they were involved in. In particular, I was interested in incidents which resulted in casualties to either side. For the U.S. side, I counted those personnel who were listed as KIA and those who were listed as Seriously Wounded in Action, or SWIA. I considered those personnel who did not return to duty within 72 hours as being WIA. I did not count those soldiers who put a band-aid on it and returned to duty within that 72-hour window. To count as an insurgent casualty, I only included those whose body was in our possession. i.e., enemy KIA where we actually had possession of the body and those who were captured and in custody. Some of the Enemy Prisoners of War (EPWs) may have been wounded, but there was no information with which to break that out. Any insurgent who was believed to have been killed or wounded but was not in our possession was not counted.

Eventually, I ended up with a database of some 27,000 incidents evaluated for 80 different conditions over a period of a year and a half of operations. Some of the conditions I tested for included things like what kind of attack it was: small arms, Improvised Explosive Device (IED), mortar, complex, etc. The Army counted an attack as “complex” if two different types of weapons were used, e.g., small arms and Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs). I believed the Army’s definition was not helpful, as the purpose of that categorization was to indicate a higher level of training and tactical competence. So, I only counted an attack as being in the complex category that actually required integration of differing elements, such as small arms and mortars or a vehicular IED and coordinated sniper fire, etc.

In analyzing these incidents, certain trends seemed to fall out. The Iraqi insurgents were never able to successfully stand up to Allied troops in an infantry fight. Insurgent mortarmen were hopelessly inept. Even IED attacks rapidly dropped in effectiveness. Some of these things were due to the quick adaptation by Allied troops. They got better defensive armor and tactics, but experience was the key. It was difficult to watch Allied casualties spike with the rotation of a new unit into combat, but this was followed rapidly by a drop in losses. Often, the final rate was lower than that of the previous unit, indicating an effective process of disseminating lessons learned through the force. In contrast, there was no sign whatsoever of a similar process on the insurgent side. Their casualty rates increased incessantly to the point that something had to give. That something was the “Sunni Awakening,” when they realized that it would be better to seek our protection from the Shia militias than to fight us.

One of the things that convinced me that this result was inevitable was what happened with casualty rates on both sides with regard to IEDs. In the first months of the insurgency, it took only three IED emplacements to cause a U.S. KIA or SWIA. By the end of my study, this was up to over 30 to 1 and the insurgents were actually losing more personnel involved with IEDs than we were (not all of insurgent losses were IED trigger-men scooped up during an attack, or from emplacement teams who were caught in the act—some were from raids on IED factories, or from the movement of bombs where careless insurgents blew themselves up, etc.). Much of this data was collected before our realization of the extent our troops were suffering from traumatic brain injuries, so the real cost to our personnel was not completely captured. However, the enemy did not know this, either, so it didn’t influence their decision to change sides.

One of the most important findings I made was of a major inflection point in insurgent combat effectiveness in November, 2004. It appeared quite clear that many of their best people—if not the very heart of the insurgency—died in the fight for Fallujah. This should come as a surprise to no one, given the fight they put up, and the lack of escape routes we afforded them. From that point on, insurgent effectiveness dropped and continued a literal death spiral as moderately experienced insurgents were killed or captured only to be replaced by personnel with less experience and a lower life expectancy on the battlefield.

Ironically, the insurgency didn’t recognize what was happening and intensified its attacks. While the burnout of the Sunni insurgency was predictable by the end of 2005, it took another year for it to fully manifest itself. In the meantime, the increasing numbers of attacks—resulting in increasing Allied casualties, despite plummeting insurgent effectiveness—caused U.S. analysts to believe Iraq was a lost cause when, in fact, Allied forces were on the cusp of victory. Eventually, Sunni insurgents were forced to face the inevitable truth that that they could not win in a two-front war against both us and the Shia militias and to continue was tantamount to sect suicide. They knew that they would never be able to return to their position of domination over Iraq and would suffer mightily at the hands of the Shia they had previously oppressed. So, they took the only reasonable option available: they sought our protection from the Shia majority. This startling outcome was entirely predictable, if one paid close attention to the data.

A further myth I was able to disprove was the threat of “bleed out.” Counter-terrorism analysts were highly concerned that trained Iraqi military personnel turned insurgents would begin to exit Iraq with their skills and perpetrate acts of terrorism around the world. However, their bombmaking skills had no application anywhere outside of Iraq as it was almost entirely based on the use of artillery shells—not something you would find lying around Western Europe. Their small arms skills were almost non-existent, the vast majority of their “sniper” attacks were almost certainly lucky shots (I was able to identify the work of only one or two actual snipers from the data), fewer than one in ten of their RPG attacks hit anything, and they seemed completely baffled by the mortars they employed, often failing to put rounds inside the fence at a sprawling logistics base or walking their rounds off a target they came close to hitting with the first shot. Either their former soldiers didn’t join the insurgency, or they were completely incompetent. Either way, the “bleed out” threat never materialized.

Certainly, I would never advocate for a simple body count. If you ask for bodies, that’s exactly what you will get. And as we saw in Vietnam, that sometimes became problematic. However, the careful collection and analysis of combat loss statistics can be of great value.

To bring this back home, can body counts and other loss statistics be of value in analyzing the war in Ukraine? Yes, but with this caveat: those of us operating in the unclassified realm have very little access to good, useful information necessary for such analysis. Furthermore, the Ukrainian government not only recognizes the utility of good propaganda, they are masterful in its employment. And that’s a complement. However, it makes our job more difficult in sorting out truth from fiction. 

One final vignette: When the U.S. gave Stinger missiles to the Mujahideen insurgents to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, a coworker of mine was the point-man on watching the results. After a week of successful action, he wrote a piece saying that the Soviets had lost seven aircraft, or about one per day. That evening, Dan Rather read his report, verbatim on the CBS evening news, and in the succeeding months, the media and other analysts based their estimates of Russian aircraft losses on the “one per day” comment. In fact, you can find claims of Soviet losses to this day, based on that report. In reality, the Soviets took quick action, lowering their losses significantly, albeit at a high cost to the effectiveness of their Air Force. However, I have often wondered if perhaps Mr. Gorbachev trusted the Western news media more than his own generals on this issue (a not entirely unreasonable position), and eventually came to the determination that Afghanistan wasn’t worth it based on a little piece of unintentional propaganda.



My comment: Chip Sayer’s postings are completely independent of The Dupuy Institute. He emailed this to me last week and I did not get around to reading it until this morning, as I was copying and pasting it to the blog. There is a lot of significant statements in this posting, which I was tempted to place in bold. Some of these reinforce statements I have made in my books, in particular Modern American Wars. This is definitely a blog post worth reading slowly twice.

The Revival of ISIL

I have already discussed events in Syria and Iraq a couple of times. See:

In Case We Forget | Mystics & Statistics (

More on the revived ISIL | Mystics & Statistics (

This still does not seem to be getting a lot of attention. The LA TImes (of all people) just put out an article worth looking at:

A few highlights:

  1. Two trucks attacked the prison.
  2. The fight lasted a week. It ended Wednesday.
  3. U.S. and UK forces involved.
  4. 1,600 prisoners gave themselves up. How many escaped? There were something like 3,500 prisoners there.
    1. “Some 800 Islamic State prisoners managed to escape, Amaq said Saturday.” Amaq is a news outlet affiliated with the Islamic State.
  5. The SDF has 10,000 fighters?
  6. 30 SDF were killed.
  7. Perhaps as many as 10,000 ISIL fighters survived after 2019.
  8. “This is just completely off the charts compared to the scale of the operations ISIS has engaged in for well over two years.” – yes, exactly. This is why I am blogging about this.

Now, for the Historical Analysis Annual Conference (HAAC) on 27-29 September 2022 I have two conference rooms reserved, one is larger than the other. On day 2 of the conference, I do have the larger conference room (amusingly named the “Pike and Gallows Conference Center”) scheduled for “Analysis of Unconventional Warfare.” I do have a shortage of presentations on “unconventional warfare” (or COIN or Irregular Warfare or whatever is the terminology of the day). I do think the subject does need to be further examined, especially in light of how successful we were in Afghanistan.

P.S. ISIL, ISIS, Daesh and Islamic State are all the same people.


More on the revived ISIL

I have still not seen anything on the U.S. news about the resurgent ISIL, but it is on the French news.

Heavy fighting continues for 3rd day to stop ISIS prison break attempt in Syria (

A few points that get my attention:

  1. It appears that ISIL was executing prison guards.
  2. The U.S. is conducting airstrikes to support the SDF (Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces).
  3. U.S. forces in Bradley fighting vehicles were seen about 300 meters from the fighting location.
  4. The SDF say that 22 of their fighters have died and 17 injured. This is a lop-sided wounded-to-killed ratio, but note point one above (executed guards).
  5. The SDF claims that 45 ISIL members were killed and 110 escaped detainees were captured. How many escaped detainees were not captured? There were nearly 3,500 people held in the prison.
  6. Why is ISIL continued to fight after three days? Why not attack and withdraw? What are they gaining by continuing the fight?


P.S. I still don’t know why people call it ISIS? Even google translate gives the translation as “The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” Try it: الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام

In Case We Forget

This AP news report caught my attention: Islamic State gunmen mount deadly attacks in Syria, Iraq: dozens killed

The points that stand out to me:

1. “In Iraq, IS gunmen attacked an army barracks [at 3 a.m.] in a mountainous area north of Badhdad early Friday, killing 11 soldiers as they slept…”


2. “In Syria, more than 100 IS fighters using heavy machine guns and vehicles rigged with explosives attacked the Gweiran Prison in the northeastern city of Hassakeh…”

     a. “…seven U.S. backed Kurdish fighters were killed and several others were wounded. At least 23 IS attackers were also among the dead…”

     b. This is a company-sized attack by an insurgency “defeated” “in March 2019” !!!

     c. “The complex attack was mounted on Thursday evening…prisoners inside the facility rioted simultaneously…”

     d. “…more than 100 militants who escaped were arrested…” So, how many escaped ???

     e. “…at least 23 Kurdish security forces and prison guards were killed in the clashes, alongside 39 militants and five civilians…” (unconfirmed and unofficial)

    f. “…the inmates are mostly in control of the prison, while Kurdish forces attempt to wrestle it back…” (unconfirmed and unofficial).


Another recent article adds:

  1. “….killed at least 23 Kurdish secuirty forces and set ‘dozens of IS fighters’ free… (unconfirmed and unofficial)

And this is worth watching (VOA). It is only three and half minutes long:

  1. They note that there are more than10,000 Islamic State prisoners being held in Syria (at 2:45 see. “One of the most worrisome problems…”)

I like to claim that we are three-for-three in our predictions…

We have discussed on this blog before our analysis for the Gulf War, the casualty estimate for Bosnia peacekeeping mission, and the casualty and duration estimate for Iraq. In each case, we were either the closest public estimate or pretty much dead on. Just as a reminder:

Predictions | Mystics & Statistics (

Now, back in late 1990 Trevor Dupuy made his predictions on the Gulf War. They are discussed here:

Forecasting the 1990-1991 Gulf War | Mystics & Statistics (

Assessing the TNDA 1990-91 Gulf War Forecast | Mystics & Statistics (

Assessing the 1990-1991 Gulf War Forecasts | Mystics & Statistics (

In 1995 we provided the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) with our predictions for Bosnia. This was, as far as I know, the first formal attempt to make a prediction of casualties for an “operation other than war.” This prediction is in Appendix II of America’s Modern Wars and is discussed here:

Forecasting U.S. Casualties in Bosnia | Mystics & Statistics (

In 2004 we provided the Center for Army Analysis (CAA) and OSD Net Assessment our predictions of casualties and duration for the war in Iraq. Again, as far as I know, this was the first formal attempt to make an analytically based prediction on casualties and duration for a insurgency. This prediction is discussed in depth in Chapter 1 and Appendix I for America’s Modern Wars and is discussed here.

Forecasting the Iraqi Insurgency | Mystics & Statistics (

And then there are these posts:

President Obama’s Casualty Estimates | Mystics & Statistics (

Casualty Estimates for a War with North Korea | Mystics & Statistics (

The CRS Casualty Estimates | Mystics & Statistics (

Casualty Estimates for Conflict with Iran | Mystics & Statistics (

Casualty Estimates for Conflict with Iran – Killed and Wounded | Mystics & Statistics (

How Common are Casualty Estimates? | Mystics & Statistics (

Casualty Estimates for Conflict with Iran – Summation | Mystics & Statistics (

I always like to claim that we are three-for-three, in that we have published three predictions before conflicts occur that are fundamentally correct. As significant, in my mind, is that we were correct, based upon historical analysis and using combat models build upon history for not only a conventional war, but for an unconventional or guerilla war and for a peacekeeping mission. This is a wide range of scenarios. We are not aware of anyone else who has done this.


Summation of Afghanistan Chapter

Afghan police in training, near Jalalabad, 15 August 2010 (photo by friend of William A. Lawrence II).

This is a summation of the 13 posts drawn (copied) from Chapter 21: Relating a Force Ratio Model to Afghanistan (pages 253-273) of America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam:

So What Does My Book Say About Afghanistan? | Mystics & Statistics (

So What Does My Book Say About Afghanistan? – part 2 | Mystics & Statistics (

So What Does My Book Say About Afghanistan? – part 3 | Mystics & Statistics (

From that post:

At the time of that briefing, we had 110,790 troops there. The Dupuy Institute estimated insurgent strength between 15,000 and 25,000, with us leaning towards the higher figure. So if the insurgency was a regional or factional insurgency, then even at a force ratio of 4.43 to 1 (assuming 25,000 insurgents), we had an 84 percent chance of winning. Yet, it did not appear that we were winning. [bolding added for this post]”

So What Does My Book Say About Afghanistan? – part 4 | Mystics & Statistics (

So What Does My Book Say About Afghanistan? – part 5 | Mystics & Statistics (

From that post: 

The problem is if the insurgency is broadly based, then those surge forces needed to stay in place for the next ten years, with the expected continued losses and expenses. [bolding added for this post]

Dueling Surges | Mystics & Statistics (

So What Does My Book Say About Afghanistan? – part 7 | Mystics & Statistics (

So What Does My Book Say About Afghanistan? – part 8 | Mystics & Statistics (

So What Does My Book Say About Afghanistan? – part 9 | Mystics & Statistics (

So What Does My Book Say About Afghanistan? – part 10 | Mystics & Statistics (

So What Does My Book Say About Afghanistan? – part 11 | Mystics & Statistics (

What Does My Book Say About Afghanistan? (part 12) – Political Will | Mystics & Statistics (

What Does My Book Say About Afghanistan? (part 13) – Conclusions | Mystics & Statistics (

From that post:

If history is a guide, then this government will be replaced one way or the other several years after we withdraw. What will replace it is hard to determine, but will probably include a return to some extent of the Taliban, or perhaps with them leading the new government. It is also distinctly possible that the country will return back into civil war. None of this fulfills our objectives.

This was written in early 2015.