View Full Version : The high cost of having an inadequate force to space ratio

Merv Benson
12-19-2006, 02:48 AM
Major Ben Connable (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/18/opinion/18connable.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&oref=slogin), USMC writing in the NY Times today gives the cost both to the US and the Iraqis:


... What will become of Iraqi villages, towns and cities as we pull out? Although past is not necessarily prologue, recent experience in Anbar Province may be instructive.

American units have already withdrawn from the western Euphrates River valley — twice, in fact. As the insurgency heated up in early 2004, the Seventh Marine Regiment pulled up stakes and went to fight insurgents in eastern Anbar, leaving the rest of the province in the hands of a battalion of troops. The Marines balanced obvious risk against the possible reward of overwhelming some of the insurgent groups in the east.

The consequences were immediate and bloody. Insurgents assumed control of several towns and villages. They tortured and executed police officers, local politicians, friendly tribal leaders and informants. They murdered contractors who had worked with the Americans or the Iraqi government. They tore down American-financed reconstruction projects and in a few cases imposed an extreme version of Islamic law. Many Iraqi military units collapsed in the absence of United States support.

The insurgents celebrated their self-described victory and exploited the withdrawal for propaganda purposes. Baathist-led insurgents used the opportunity to establish training camps and weapons caches in the farmland and along the river banks while other groups, including Al Qaeda, smuggled in fighters, suicide bombers and money to support operations in Ramadi, Falluja and Baghdad. Western Iraq became a temporary haven for criminals, terrorists and thousands of local thugs who made up de facto mini-regimes in the absence of a stabilizing force.

When the Seventh Marines returned to western Anbar it was essentially forced to retake some of the towns it once controlled. Many local Iraqis were openly hostile; the battle for the hearts and minds of the population was set back months, if not years. With the politicians murdered, local civil administration was almost nonexistent and any influence held by the central government was lost.

The Seventh Marine Regiment pulled up stakes again in November 2004 to join the second fight for Falluja. Conscious of the damage done by the earlier withdrawal, the Marines left behind more troops in an effort to stem the inevitable surge of insurgent and criminal gangs; Iraqi forces were not yet ready to assume control.

Despite this Marine presence, the results were similar. What had been rebuilt in the summer crumbled in the fall.

The two withdrawals left the western Euphrates River valley in a shambles. At the end of 2005 the Marines were forced to conduct sweep and clear operations from Anbar’s capital, Ramadi, to the Syrian border town of Husayba. As they pushed west they uncovered hundreds of weapons caches, elaborate insurgent propaganda centers, carefully camouflaged training camps, suicide vehicle factories and complex criminal networks that were feeding a steady stream of money to insurgents and terrorists across the country. Marine units settled back in, spread out and brought attack levels to unprecedented lows.

Since 2005, the situation in Anbar has significantly deteriorated. But as bad as things have become, American and Iraqi forces retain some degree of control in even the most turbulent areas. The border cities of Husayba and Qaim are relatively stable and have effective security and government. Falluja, also stable, is a model for Iraqi-American military cooperation. Advisers are embedded with Iraqi units across the province. American-supported tribes are beginning to combat Al Qaeda in Iraq in the east. Anbar is down but not out, thanks to the American troops along the Euphrates River.


While Major Connable is making the case against a quick withdrawal of forces he is also showing the high price of having to pay for the same real estate more than once. We had to pay that price because we had an inadequate force to space ration in the area he is talking about. Regardless of the fact that we had adequate combat power to defeat the enemy each time, the cost kept getting higher each time. Having an adequate number of troops to take and hold the area would have saved lives and made it much more difficult for the enemy to survive. The way you defeat an enemy that uses a raiding strategy is by having a sufficient force to space ratio to stop his ability to move to contact. It also gives you the ability to destroy his sanctuaries, thus putting him in motion where he is most vulnerable. The whole article is worth reading.

Bill Moore
12-19-2006, 02:45 PM
Force ratios (good guys to bad guys) are generally guesses that are rarely if ever scientific calculations on the forces required; however, a force to space ratio is an excellent starting point for calculating the number of troops required as a starting point. I wonder if this is what GEN Shinseki used when he made his estimate prior to the invasion?

More important than the force to space ratio is the strategy employed, but then again the strategy can't succeed without the proper force to space ratio. It isn't a chicken or egg dilema, but rather one equates to the other. Now that we're moving past the armed UAVs as our answer to dominating terrain and wishing problems away (there is no insurgency, there is no civil war), I trust we're moving towards the right strategy, though it is very late in the game.

12-19-2006, 07:04 PM
I believe Gen. Shinsheki was using a ratio based on the occupying powers in Germany, Japan, the Balkans, Somalia, Haiti, etc. In post war Germany (best case) there was something like one soldier in formed combat units for every fifty civilians. With Iraq's population of about 25,000,000 that works out to 500,000 soldiers.

More recent successful operations have been closer to one soldier per one hundred civilians, although dismal failures like Somalia (of the overall mission) and Haiti (of the long term goal) were much worse. That would equate to about 250,000 soldiers, of course.

Now what the Iraqi Army and Police are worth in this fight is anybody's guess. . . . Probably not one to one with US soldiers, because if you add their numbers to Coalition strengths you actually get close to the half million mark.

12-19-2006, 08:15 PM
...here's some number-crunching for ya:

Establishing Law and Order After Conflict (http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/2005/RAND_MG374.pdf), RAND, 2005

...security assistance should last for at least five years. Time is needed to train, equip, and mentor police and other security forces, as well as build and refurbish infrastructure. Justice systems can be extremely difficult and time consuming to build, especially in countries with little formal rule of law when reconstruction begins. A long duration appears to be a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for success. The United States and other donors provided assistance to Kosovo and East Timor, our two successful cases, for at least five years. But they provided assistance to Panama, the least successful case, for six years.

The level of at least 1,000 soldiers per 100,000 inhabitants appears necessary for success, especially where there is a potential for severe instability. Troops are critical for defeating and deterring insurgents, patrolling borders, securing roads, and combating organized crime. In year one, there were 2,100 soldiers per 100,000 inhabitants in Kosovo and 1,100 in East Timor.

Reconstruction efforts likely require at least 150 international civilian police per 100,000 inhabitants. Police are important in conducting general law enforcement functions such as policing streets, as well as more specific functions such as conducting counterdrug operations. By year two, East Timor had an international civilian police rate of 151 and Kosovo had 234. Reaching such a ratio may be much more challenging in larger countries. It is also important to assess the security conditions to determine whether and how to adjust the suggested levels. These levels of troops and police may not always be necessary. In cases in which all sides of a war may be exhausted by fighting and have agreed to a peace settlement or formal surrender, lower ratios may suffice.

The level of domestic police should be at least 200 police per 100,000 inhabitants after five years. East Timor had 303 and Kosovo had 272 after five years. Even further, it is necessary that these officers be trained. After the first three years, East Timor had all its officers trained, whereas Kosovo had more than 9 out of every 10 officers trained. In contrast, by 2004, 46 percent of police were trained in Panama, and 36 percent were trained in Iraq.

We have insufficient data to argue that large levels of inputs and outputs will guarantee effectiveness...

12-19-2006, 11:52 PM
Try Lack of Political Will

The Lack of Data seems the most ubiquitous excuse for inaction I know in modern history.

Need more troops? What will it take? Where will you get them? How do you gain community support? help them gain what they want them something they want. Security, power medical, gas, food but please do not join the I need more Data crowd.

We need 15-25 % of the population on the side of the new government willing to act or give time or money to the new government. They need to be politically active in a positive way living and breathing in the community not removed from it. Police and military work is important to be sure but this is a war ---the enemies manpower, energy and financing internally and foreign need to be cut and then he will be forced to expend his energy to protect it. Schools, hospitals, courts they are not buildings they are people with will and knowledge they have an organic life far beyond the bricks and the mortar and the equipment. Build these communities and protect them and they will support you and the community will pay and build the facilities for all.
The country does not want colonization the allies in it want the country or at least themselves to be absorbed. In the end the Country or the individuals will be all or nothing friend or foe.

The New Iraq needs to take a CENSUS-- find out who is who and where. The inconsistencies of what side people are on will become evident and action will be more coherant. refer to the post on french experience with coin in algiers.

12-20-2006, 12:29 AM
My opinion is that troops to space and troops to population can both be valid measures. It depends on the situation. In wide open desert, troops to space based capabilities to support other units would work. In a dense city I would go troops to total population. In Alabama the recommended ratio in stable conditions is 3 per 1000. In a riot or major civil disturbance they could surge to what ever the Director of Public safety wants including activation of the National Guard. So maybe the best answer is to have a large ready reserve because the situation is to dynamic to predict with any accuracy.

Merv Benson
12-20-2006, 04:08 PM
I agree with those who suggest that you need a greater force to space ratio in areas of denser population. You also need fewer in areas where there is no enemy activity such as the Kurdish area of Iraq. The mistake is not having enough to cover areas where the enemy is active as was the case in Anbar.

One of the mistakes made in Vietnam initially was tying troop levels to a multiple of the enemy troops. This turned the question of adequate troop levels over to the enemy. We were always on the strategic defensive.