The Currency of War Posted by: Dale Franks
on Thursday, February 08, 2007
Over at Blackfive, Uncle Jimbo is requesting enemy body counts.
I am requesting information about all actions in Baghdad and Al Anbar, specifically how many enemy dead or captured. If all the public hears is 4 more Marines died, they will have no feel for what their lives bought. That is the currency of war, I hate it but it's reality. Without an enemy body count, we have no way to gauge success. The administration has decided not to release numbers on enemy casualties, but I haven't.
I specifically request that no one send classified or otherwise protected information. But I do enjoy the same protections the jackals of the MSM do. I hope I enjoy the trust that any communications would be completely privileged, but you have my word anyhow.
What I want to do is create an alternate channel of information on the surge, to provide a real look at what the actual circumstances of each engagement are. We can do this by cross-referencing different media sources reporting on actions, checking press releases from involved units, passing on first hand or second, maybe third hand info. Part of intel evaluation and analysis involves rating sources, so if you hear from your cousin whose in Baghdad, that one of the other battalions in his unit got in a scrap, and a guy he knows over there says they whacked 15 tangos, that gets thrown in the overall matrix and is factored in.
Then we need to roll the results up real tight and start poking all the media we can in the eye with it.
I have mixed feelings about this.
First, I understand why the DoD is uninterested in body counts. In Vietnam, the perception—correct or not—was that the body count of enemy KIA was the be-all, end-all of operations. At the end of the day, it turned out to be almost entirely th wrong metric for gauging success there. The Pentagon doesn't want to tread that ground again.
At the same time, Uncle Jimbo has a point. When we hear that X number of soldiers or marines died in East Kaplokistan, there's no context attached to it. There's no sense in which those deaths—tragic as they may be—are a measure of accomplishment. If 6 marines die in an assault on a fortified insurgent stronghold, during which 80 or 90 insurgents were killed, at least we can see that those lives were spent in the achievement of a valid objecive.
But as it is now, we hear about those deaths in a vacuum, without the context that gives the news meaning.
As a soldier, I never expected that my commander's primary goal was to preserve my life. What I expected was that he wouldn't expend it carelessly. That the expense of lives he incurred would be appropriate to the mission.
But, without knowing what the mission was, and what it accomplished, we have no way of judging what those US casualty counts mean when we hear them.
Enemy body counts aren't the best metric for determining success. That much is clear. But, at the same time, they aren't meaningless either.
What enemy body counts generally do—although there are exceptions—is provide a framework for judging whether the cost of a particular mission was acceptable, and whether the commander acted judiciously. What enemy body counts don't do is tell us if the mission itself was strategically justified. To make the latter judgment, different metrics are required.
I do think, though, that Uncle Jumbo has a valid point that enemy body counts are helpful in providing a context for US casualties.
The body count was and is a bad metric for our military to use. They now use other metrics, like weapons captured or what not.
But, as you can see by the media’s use of a body count, it is very effective for propaganda / morale purpose.
Uncle Jimbo is right...The average Joe probably imagines our guys drive around getting killed while doing nothing in return, except for the occasional headline where he learns we blew up a wedding party or killed some civilians.
The Iraqis also have that TV show where they show the insurgents are not supermen / minutemen, but scumbags. We need some of that. We could also showcase some of the better Iraqi officers/soldiers..some of these people are incredibly brave.
(Note I live in Taiwan, so maybe this is already happening and I don’t know it. All I see if Yahoo News running a bodycount every day.)
In my view, the American people have soured on Bush’s not-so-excellent adventure in Iraq, not because of the number of American casualties, nor because of the length of time we’ve been there, but because, to use a game analogy, (1) we don’t understand the purpose of the game, (2) we don’t understand what is happening on the field and (3) we have no scorecard with which to figure out who is winning.
The absence of enemy body counts, or some other metric for measuring success, is the equivalent of not having a scorecard.. or even worse, knowing how only the other side is doing. As you say, it’s like knowing that the football team you’re rooting against has scored 24 points; it isn’t bad if your team has scored 32, but terrible if your team has scored only 6.
But even having such a scorecard wouldn’t help that much as the public doesn’t understand the purpose of the ’game’. We’ve never been given a clear and concise definition of what ’winning’ means. By this, I mean it’s not enough for Bush to talk, as he has, in broad terms of ’beating the enemy’, ’installing democracy’ and so on. We need specifics: for example, is success defined as no insurgent attacks at all, or is it some reduced number of attacks? Compare the confusion now over the much clearer picture at the onset of the invasion: back then we had arrows on a map showing the progress our troops were making in moving into Iraq. Now, we have exactly what? I don’t think it is a coincidence that the public was much more supportive of the conflict back then that they are today.
And, even if we had a scorecard and we understood what Bush was trying to do, we would still have problems as we don’t understand his game plan. Neither Bush nor his generals have ever laid out for us his approach... in terms we can understand (and if this means laying it out in a way someone with the comprehension of a sixth-grader can follow, then you do so). We hear we are focusing on X, then we’re hearing that we are focusing on Y. We hear we’re going after the militias, then we hear that we’re not. We hear that Sadr is a murderer that we’re going after, then we hear that he is part of the solution. Imagine a game where you not only don’t have a way of keeping track but you have no idea what the players on the field are trying to do.
I think the American people can tolerate a long conflict and we can tolerate casualties... but when we are confused about what is going on and how well we’re doing, our understandable reaction is to think that things are screwed up and not getting better... and when that happens, is it any surprise that we’d just as soon have this over with?
Final point: when I first heard that we lost 18 dead in Somalia in 1993, I thought that was terrible, that we had gotten our butts kicked. But when I saw the movie and learned that our guys had taken out somewhere north of 500+ enemy, while I still regretted the loss of our soldiers, it was clear that it wasn’t our guys who had their butts kicked. I still to this day wonder why Clinton and the Pentagon didn’t make more of an effort to let the public know the real ’score’ of that mission.
When the majority of the adult population elects to gets its news from the MSM, no metric will suffice. The 910 Group had a great idea: garner enouigh money to buy major news outlets and then, I presume, replace the j-school types with more rationale (and less blame-America first) types. Even the FOX News statement of ’fair and balanced’ has become quite tedious, since their reports do not reflect the true picture of progress.
For the faint of heart, I would suggest that instead of X insurgents killed, that the population of Paradise has grown by X.