View Full Version : Do Metrics Matter?

Bill Moore
02-19-2014, 08:42 AM
Members of SWJ often debate the value of metrics and assessments on other threads, but to my knowledge I don't think we have a thread dedicated to the debate/discussion. I'm starting this one based on a discussion/debate that has emerged on SWJ Journal at this link http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/village-stability-operations-and-the-future-of-the-american-way-of-war

There are more posts at the site, but I'll start the discussion with a couple of them here:

agree that VSO has been "sickened by the curse of McNamara"- although I'd expand that to the entire DoD has been sickened by it. Rumsfeld's (and Gates' and Hagels') expansion upon McNamara's philosophy: that one can apply reductive analytics to social phenomena (war being a social phenomenon in my mind) has turned us more systematic, not less. The systems demand metrics- and thus every CBA I'm involved in concludes we need more IT systems platforms to better aggregate the data for us- because if only our data systems gave us more simplification of the complexity out there... we'd be golden...

Even if you cannot measure entire complexity of "complex causal relationship", still there are some aspects which are measurable (and are quite useful). Is is possible to measure percentage of villages where I established VSO program (MoP)? It is. Is it possible to determine whether the program is working or not in those villages (MoE)? Sure (Depends if I chose correct criteria). Is it possible to determine whether the insurgents have access to the populace and to what extent? In one village? In some percent of villages in a district? Countrywise? Sure. Is it possible to measure it geographically? Sure. Is it possible to determine the changes in time and space? Yes.

The real problem is not using those measurements per se but using them honestly and correctly.

My response:

You argue you can't plan without metrics which is absolutely ludicrous, unless you're a businessman. Metrics didn't become a major factor in U.S. military campaign planning until McNamara introduced modern industrial practices into DOD. Metrics often have no value based on the fact our leadership will always skew them to fit their preconceived perceptions. Even if we could assess metrics quantitatively or qualitatively without bias (we can't), the results would still mean little. We're not trying to increase our profit margins, the only thing that ultimately matters in a conflict is the adversary's will and means to continue fighting. As long as this persists the conflict will persist regardless of our overly positive or negative metrics. This is what we have seen to forgotten over the past 50 or so years. This doesn't mean we have defeat the adversary via military force, we could reach a political compromise, quit, etc., but regardless of the means our measuring of random and irrelevant metrics means nothing and distracts us from what is important. In fact, I think it can result in creating a distorted reality where we convince ourselves we're winning because we're focused on nonsense that is irrelevant to defeating or acquiescing to the adversary.

If we're fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, and admittedly that is debatable, then measuring metrics related to economic development, number of villages allegedly pacified by the VSO program, number of troops trained, or even the number of enemy contacts ultimately means very little if the Taliban is still willing to fight. Of course the conflict is more complex than our fight with the Taliban and most recognize that. If we followed Gant's advice I suspect we would have accelerated reinitiating tribal warfare that existed in Afghanistan prior to the arrival of the Taliban by enhancing the means of each tribe to fight each other, and they would play us like a maestro plays a violin.

More rational comments below.

Bill Moore
02-19-2014, 09:14 AM
While my argument is too absolute above, the underlying point in my opinion remains valid which is that we have allowed metrics (the tail) to wag the dog (strategy). Our search for the perfect metric will always be illusionary, but that doesn't mean some limited metrics and assessments don't have a role in conflict, but that role should be much more limited than it is now. Metrics and assessments will never tell us if we're winning if winning means defeating an adversary, or getting the adversary to stop fighting (political agreement, etc.). As I stated above what we measure has little impact on the adversary's will or means to continue fighting for whatever his objectives may be. When metrics distract us from this reality we lose sight of what is really important. I'm sure our metrics would have told us Germany and Japan should have surrendered long before they did based on the futility of continued struggle, but people are proud and stubborn beyond reason. The same holds true for insurgents and the counterinsurgent who both wage war/conflict until both sides tire enough to resolve their differences politically. All our measures/assessments prior to that point are of questionable value. Providing a couple of starting papers to inform the debate that I hope will follow since this is an important topic for all conflict, not just small wars.


Afghanistan: The Failed Metrics of Ten Years of War

This analysis looks at the reporting available on the state of the war at the end of 2011, in terms of the data, trends, and maps available from the US Department of Defense (DoD), the US National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), the NATO/ISAF command, and the UN. It attempts to explore the meaning of these data, the reasons for the sharp differences between them, and what they say about the fighting to date and its progress.


The Problem of Metrics:
Assessing Progress and Effectiveness in the Vietnam War

A lot in this article, but I found this particular paragraph of particular interest.

South East Asia expert Bernard B. Fall similarly highlighted the complexities of measuring success in an unconventional environment. Fall had spent nearly 15 years in Indochina becoming one of its most respected scholars. His 1961 publication Street without Joy, a classic of the eight-year French-Indochina War, influenced a wide range of American officers preparing for deployment to Vietnam. Fall defined victory in revolutionary war as ‘the people and the army … emerg[ing] on the same side of the fight’.12 He realized, though, that assessing progress toward such victory required suitable indicators.
The French criteria for ‘control’ often had ‘no real meaning when it came to giving a factual picture of who owned what (or whom) throughout the Vietnamese countryside inside the French battleline, much less outside’.13 Fall argued that trends in levels of security and population control could be plotted objectively on a map, given accurate reporting of assassinations, insurgent raids, and Vietcong taxation. Measuring ‘administrative control’, however difficult, if done properly, provided military commanders with the most accurate assessment of their progress.14

O.K. I admit my bias I a big Bernard Fall fan, and yes it appears he is making an argument for metrics, but hey a big fan doesn't mean a die hard fan, we can have our disagreements. :D On a serious note, I recall reading comments Mr. Fall made in an article about how the U.S. village assessment process was highly inaccurate in Vietnam, and while that article didn't use the term administrative control his example did. He pointed to the schools we built (sound familiar, Kodak moments for our Civil Affairs Teams) being used as a metric of success, but the reality was the Viet Cong administered the schools and appointed the teachers. I had a senior Afghan security official tell me the same thing in 2010. I wasn't able to confirm it, but he said Mullahs were teaching in two of the schools we built radicalizing the children and parents didn't want to send their kids there, but were threatened if they didn't. I suspect our assessments and metrics never captured that uncomfortable truth.

By late 1967 the sheer weight of numbers had become crushing. At MACV commander conferences, staff officers deluged Westmoreland with 65 charts during the Measurement of Progress briefing alone. According to the briefing officer, no senior general expressed any interest in one indicator over another.52 All the while, the US mission in South Vietnam tempered any signs of failure with a blizzard of statistics suggesting progress that led only to confusion on the American home front. Both optimists and pessimists easily justified their positions from the mounds of conflicting data. Without
linkages to coherent strategic aims and sound threat assessments, it seemed any balance sheet or prognosis was as good as the next. Even the establishment of an operations research and systems analysis office in MACV (MACEVAL) and an increasing reliance on automation did little to facilitate analysis of the war’s trends. Given the obsession with statistics and measurement, the war’s complexity had simply overwhelmed MACV’s
capacity for understanding.53

and part of the last paragraph captures it all rather nicely

In the end, the United States Army failed in Vietnam in part because its metrics for success masked important operational and organizational deficiencies. Flawed measurements validated imperfect counter-insurgency methods and provided MACV with a false sense of progress and effectiveness. These measurements were symptomatic of a larger failure in thinking about the war’s deeper issues.

Bob's World
02-19-2014, 03:31 PM
IMO, the biggest problem is that we insist on forcing every conflict, regardless of nature or form, into the Clausewitzian war box.

I think we are better served if we recognize two broad categories of conflict, each of which requires a completely different understanding and logic to understand, address or assess.

The first of these is your classic interstate conflict, or "state-based conflict". This is war and apply Clausewitz liberally (or literally) as you choose. While having a smart strategy is preferable, one can win through tactical victories regardless of their strategic shortfalls. All one must do is sieze and hold ground, defeat or destroy warmaking capacity, and coerce the Army, Government (and people if one intends to stay) of the opponent and one wins. This lends itself to neat metrics of tanks destoyed, miles advanced, rivers crossed, etc, etc, etc. In short, the sum of tactics will ultimately add up to strategy. Objective measures are relevant. Each commander can measure what he did in his sector during his tenure to assess his personal and unit success. These separate reports can then be added to tell a comprehensive story of if one is "winning" or "losing."

The other category of conflict is intrastate conflict, or "populace-based conflict." This may be war, but often is not war at all and is better thought of as an extreme form of civil emergency. In these types of conflicts success does not come from defeating the capacity of the challenger's ability to fight or controlling his terrain, or capturing his flag. Rather, success comes from understanding and repairing the perceptions of governance resident among some population (or populations) that have been driven (or neglected) to the point where they feel compelled to illegally, and often violently, challenge these existing, offending, systems of governance.

In these types of conflicts all tactical action should be designed and executed with primary strategic purpose of shaping these perceptions in positive directions, even when the immediate, tactical purpose my be to defeat some force, clear some village, or extend electricity to a region previously dark. One can certainly measure in objective ways all of those tactical actions - but all one learns from such measures is what one has done. Much more important to appreciate is HOW the actions were done, and what effect they had on the critical perceptions of the populations the illegal challengers are coming from - but also non-problematic domestic populations and populations abroad with only indirect or perhaps no stake at all in the conflict.

This is incredibly subjective. It cannot be measured during a single commander's tenure, nor within the confines of his battle space. One cannot tell which commander is good or bad, as what they did that can be measured is largely meaningless in of itself - rather it is how they did what they did and how those actions were perceive that matters. That, however only manifests over time and is impossible to attribute to any particular man, unit or action.

We must evolve in how we think about conflict in general before we can evolve in how we assess the effectiveness of our actions. I personally see little inclination to learn or evolve in that direction. Meanwhile we have our "Made in Iraq" generals (I see HR McMaster is nominated for his 3rd star) and our "Made in Afghanistan" generals. All possible because we could objectively measure the superiority of these commanders over their peers by what they did during their tenures and within their battle space. We celebrate tactical excellence, and turn a blind eye to strategic failure.

Strategic failure in the face of such tactical excellence cannot be our fault, so it is blamed on convenient foils, such as: "complexity" or "ideology" or host governments/security forces/populations (or our own at home) who "lack the will" to win. We widely recognize that the global strategic environment has fundamentlaly changed and that power is shifting to be more balanced between those within government and those outside of government. Yet we cling to our old thinking and practices.

Bottom line is that we suck stategically at populace-based conflicts primarily because it is we who lack the skill or will to recognize that they are fundamentally different than state-based conflicts. Afterall, doing so would require a much fuller accounting of the causal role of governments (the local one as well as those who intervene) in these conflicts - and besides, how would we know who to promote??

02-19-2014, 08:55 PM
You are dealing with Systems and not countries or in many cases not even governments as we think of them. Until we accept this and begin to learn about reality as it is as opposed to viewing it through the eyes of dead people...we are just doomed. Link to video on System of Systems.


Steve Blair
02-19-2014, 11:06 PM
Metrics can be useful, but the issue I keep seeing in many areas is that they often become an end in themselves. And that's when they become dangerous. In law enforcement you see crime reporting twisted to keep certain "hot" categories low, in academia you see actual student learning subordinated to metrics based on five year completion rates and situations where resources are focused on the top 5% of students and the bottom 5%, leaving the average student in the morass of being "average" and thus not requiring resources.

A metric is a tool. Nothing more. Elevating it to a goal is dangerous, especially when you're using the wrong metric or trying to quantify something that can't easily be quantified (or shouldn't be quantified).

02-19-2014, 11:11 PM
I have long argued - in the UK policing context - that 'Key Performance Indicators' were twisted into 'Measures' or metrics. A very different function.

Rudy Giuliani in his book on NYC writes well on the need for having metrics to assess performance, IIRC he called them performance measures.

02-19-2014, 11:33 PM
Good leaders will make good use of metrics, good, bad or indifferent. If the right ones aren't there, they will figure the situation out. The quality of the leaders is the key.

I think our fixation with the right metrics, the wrong metrics, being interpreted this way or that way is in keeping with what appears to me to be a cultural proclivity to eliminate the human element in war and especially in combat leadership. It seems that we are always looking for some machine or process that will make good leadership moot. If we could only find the right thing, then the hard and uncertain task of finding and promoting good leaders, there would be no need for.

Bill M: Gregory Daddis also wrote a book about that subject.


I thought it a good book.

02-20-2014, 06:37 AM
Metrics are just numbers. It is a question of what you believe the number represent. If you believe that the complexities of human motivations and feelings can be easily and simply reduced to a metric then you will find your answer in metrics, even if you have to create the data points and the conclusions to draw from them. If you are willing to assume that humans are more complicated than that, then you can still find indicators, but they will not yield absolute proof of success or failure, only the potential for movement in a specific direction.

Even then, you must have a complete understanding of what it is you are trying to achieve. I don't think most military types have any idea the political and cultural impetus behind our ultimate objectives. We happily delude ourselves into believing we understand how other people think. I wish I had a better answer. All I can do is advise against the blind belief that everything can be reduced to simple metrics.

Bill Moore
02-20-2014, 08:23 AM
I'll revisit my principle concern with metrics during conflict and war. When it is our principle objective to defeat an adversary, any metric not tied to the adversary's will or capability to continue to fight will not tell us if we're winning. This is true even for COIN, and it applies to addressing to political issues that will take the wind out of the adversary's will to fight, but more often the type of political compromise required to do that is not acceptable to us.

What do we do instead, instead we frame the underlying issues of the conflict as economic, the need for democracy, etc. and aggressively pursue activities related to economic development and establishing democratic governance (the bulk of our indirect metrics) that even if successful have nothing to do with the reason our adversaries are fighting us in most cases (though this approach could probably work in the Philippines, since the communist insurgency is largely driven my poor governance and economic disparity). The second set of metrics we focus are tied to MOP or input which is the number of security forces trained, though as we all though if they don't have the will to fight these metrics mean little. This one will perturb the COINdistas, but it needs to be stated. Our attempt to separate the populace from the insurgents in Afghanistan will not defeat what we're calling an insurgency, and is another irrelevant metric for a lot of reasons that converge together, but the only one I'll mention here is we're not denying the ability of the insurgent to continue to operate when they enjoy safe havens across the border with Pakistan. They can continue to fight regardless of how many villages we "control," because they enjoy a safehaven and we're expending limited resources to hold the status quo. If you use temporal analysis the VSO program will look good short term, but over time if the populace doesn't actively and willingly support the Gov of Afghanistan without our artificial life support what have we accomplished? I think our adversaries know this, and if they're using their metrics to assess their strategy they probably assess they're effectively targeting our will to continue fighting. We don't measure that, we measure what is usually irrelevant.

02-20-2014, 08:27 PM
Part of the problem IMO is our obsession with Political Correctness. I said a while back that the new flash points will be Race, Religion and Language. Since we live in a country where it is strictly forbidden to discuss subjects like this because we are all the same and we are all equal:rolleyes:.......We are sitting ducks. IMO MOST other people in the world don't believe in anything like that and they never will!

So there metrics are rather simple.... how many American Infidels can you kill and how much or their property can you steal or destroy. We are sitting ducks, we are loosing because of our belief in some left over Marxists-Communist-Muslim Liberation theology. I bet AQ is getting stronger and laughing at us......but of course our leadership will deny this is happening because we are all living on the Love boat.:D

02-21-2014, 02:47 AM

You are right. Remember when Bush used to say something like 'They hate us for what we are.' and he would follow that up with things like being free and prosperous, things like that? We have to start seeing that the takfiri killers don't hate us because we have refrigerators and free speech, they hate us because we aren't Muslim. We can't win until we say that. It is hard to beat the enemy unless you are clear about what he is.

Bill Moore
02-21-2014, 07:35 AM
Carl and Slap,

Political Correctness is an illness in our society that needs to be aggressively eradicated to ensure our people remain free to think independently and state their opinions without being condemned by a leftist movement that leads an assault on anyone that disagrees with their views. That said, I don't think that is the root of our challenges.

Despite PC, America still has an attractive moral power that many, maybe even most, people around the world respect to include the majority of Muslims. We can forfeit that critical advantage if we act in a way that is perceived as a war on Islam instead of a war on extremists. The terrorists will not be deterred by economic development and democracy, in fact democracy actually inflames the situation for many fundamentalist Muslims who are not terrorists.

When we occupy Muslim lands and attempt to transform we generate the propaganda the extremists need to recruit those who find their narrative of interest. I really think, but of course can never know, it would have been a very different situation if we conducted a punitive expedition in Afghanistan and then left. We would have been respected my many Muslims for defending our honor while respecting their land. Even Clinton's weak cruise missile attack on Sudan resulted in Al-Qaeda being shown the door. Instead we fell for Al-Qaeda's publically stated objective of dragging us into a quagmire where they could attack our will to sustain the effort, and bleed out our economic power. I don't think they anticipated staying this long, but they're still achieving their stated ends, and they did so my targeting our will to fight instead of compete for who has influence over the population.

Al-Qaeda should have been defeated a long time ago, and I'm currently under the belief our operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have played in their favor over time despite the core of Al-Qaeda being largely eliminated. Winning over the population and the metrics associated with doing so is not a substitute for strategy.

02-21-2014, 05:17 PM
Bill M:

A few days ago one of the Denver radio stations broadcast an alert to the listeners about some criminals who were engaged in some very violent activity, apparently hi-jacking cars in the mid-day. Denver PD had tweeted a description and an appeal for help in finding these guys before somebody got hurt. The description the station broadcast was 6 males in an old brown or tan Toyota. 6 males. Not six white males, black males, hispanic males, but just 6 males. I don't know if "6 males" was what the Denver PD tweeted or if that is what the radio station decided to broadcast but it was done because they were afraid that if they added a race somebody somewhere might have taken offense. In so doing they possibly delayed the sighting and apprehension of the "6 males" because the description given was basically no description at all. That could have gotten people hurt or killed, innocent people. And all because somebody could have taken offense if the apparent race of the suspects was stated.

Now would the radio station or the Denver PD been wrong if they had given the race in the description? No, they would not have been. They would have been acting reasonably and in good faith while attempting to protect innocents from criminals. If anybody had taken offense at an apparent race being added to the description they would have been wrong and the effect of their illegitimate hypersensitivity may have been to get some people hurt who didn't deserve it.

The people we are fighting in this aren't just extremists. They aren't the Red Army Faction nor Aum Shinrikyo nor the practice squad of the Miami Dolphins. They are religious extremists. And they are a particular sub-group of that religion. They are Sunni, wahabi/deobandi and takfiri. They aren't Sufi dervishes. We should make it clear, especially to ourselves, who it is that we must fight because they are trying to kill us. If that makes some Muslims with mouthpieces mad somewhere that's too damn bad. They are wrong for feeling that way. We aren't wrong for stating what is.

The Muslims who would take offense at our stating clearly who it is we are fighting because they are trying to kill us are predisposed to be hostile to us anyway. I have great confidence that a Malaysian shopkeeper will know that when we say we are fighting takfiri killers we don't mean him. Some Saudi Wahabi sub-prince who gets irate at that I don't care about since he probably leaning the wrong way anyway. You can't please everybody.

On our part this will take work and it will take character. It will be work to explain to people the difference between a takfiri killer and a Sufi dervish. And it will take character to withstand the PC attacks that will be launched when that is done. The big problem is the genii inside the beltway may not have the character and, despite their fancy educations, I don't think have the smarts to tell the difference between a takfiri killer and a Ahmadi.

We can't beat the religious interpretation that results in AQ and their ilk. The Muslims have to do that. What we can do is be forthright about the situation and keep killing the attackers until they stop coming for us. Sort of like Jeremiah Johnson just kept killing the braves who came for him until the Crows gave it up. (I stole that from another thread.)

I hear that argument about just doing a punitive expedition in response to 9-11 on occasion. In my view that is sort of simplistic nostalgia. 'Oh if only we had just kicked ass, taken names and gone home none of this would have happened.' We asked MO and the boys to turn over AQ. They wouldn't. If we had done a punitive strike they would have all gone to Pakistan to hide under the skirts of the Pak Army/ISI, which is what they did anyway, to come back when we left. Which is what they will try to do anyway, only they would have been there that much sooner and that much more certainly.

Steve Blair
02-21-2014, 05:42 PM
First off, I tend to be of the opinion that you can't negotiate with a terrorist group once it's taken that final step. Most terrorist groups, if they last past their initial stages, evolve (or devolve, depending on how you look at it) into rather amorphous entities motivated by the cycle of violence and revenge more than any measurable (or attainable) goals. They may pay lip service to goals, but they are generally so fuzzy and indistinct that they're window dressing by that point. And once a group crosses the line into terrorism of that type, you can only eliminate them.

Punitive expeditions can work, provided you have a good understanding of the actual centers of gravity of your targets. Most of the actions in the Indian Wars could actually be classed as punitive expeditions, and they were successful (or not) based on the understanding particular commanders had of their opponents. Mackenzie's efforts during the Red River War (culminating with the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon) were successful because he understood that the key to breaking the power of the Comanche and Kiowa on the Plains could be found in their logistical systems (actual camp supplies and horse herds). If you took out those systems while minimizing actual casualties (he also seemed to understand the revenge requirement in most Plains cultures that could drive them into conflict) you could force the tribes onto reservations. Custer, on the other hand, never seemed to understand that. Crook also failed in that regard, although he was successful against other tribal groups with different environmental considerations. We have a mixed history with these kind of expeditions (Pershing's foray into Mexico is just one example), and I think it's mostly because we don't develop commanders who understand the situation they're going into and fail to adapt. We have perhaps been most successful when military force is used as an adjunct to State Department goals (the so-called Banana Wars), although even then our longer-term legacy is very uneven.

Metrics in my view are a convenient crutch for this lack of understanding. It's easier to construct a fancy Excel spreadsheet than it is to identify points of vulnerability in an organization that doesn't look like a fielded army. We saw this during the development of air target lists during the Vietnam War. Air Force planners looked at maps of North Vietnam and for some reason saw WW2 Germany and listed their targets as if NVN was a fully industrialized society with the same needs and dependencies as a European opponent. So the war became all about sorties flown and tons dropped and less about the actual value of the targets.

What we have likely done with AQ is a larger-scale version of what happened with the IRA and the PLO. We've caused it to multiply and divide, with smaller pieces motivated more by revenge and general bloodlust than actual measurable goals and objectives. Those pieces, IMO, can only be killed or otherwise neutralized, and even then it's a very long haul (David can speak better than I regarding the issues in NI, but even there it continues to rumble on at a very low simmer...peace talks and settlements aside).

02-21-2014, 05:50 PM

It is a matter of semantics I suppose but an expedition that wipes out the logistical base of the opposition might be considered more than punitive. Regardless of the words used though, it worked and, as was your main point, was based on a good understanding of the enemy.

Do you think the winter campaigns against the Sioux might be put in the same class?

Steve Blair
02-21-2014, 05:57 PM

It is a matter of semantics I suppose but an expedition that wipes out the logistical base of the opposition might be considered more than punitive. Regardless of the words used though, it worked and, as was your main point, was based on a good understanding of the enemy.

Do you think the winter campaigns against the Sioux might be put in the same class?

The reason I called them punitive expeditions is that the campaigns were usually launched in response to a specific action or actions by the tribes, and the resources were often limited as well. Mackenzie also made the decision to target resources...it wasn't part of the overall plan for the campaign (at least in the specifics). Miles, for example, didn't specifically target resources in the same way. He did later, though, during his 1876-77 operations on the Northern Plains.

The winter campaigns were driven more by an understanding that the tribes were less mobile during the winter months. While resources were hit, they weren't the primary objective of the campaigns. In simple terms, those campaigns came down to "we can move during the winter, while the Indians really can't." The later campaigns, especially those conducted by Miles, did become more about targeting logistics. It's also worth noting that the one major success Crook had during the Great Sioux War was actually led and orchestrated by Mackenzie, and again targeted logistical assets (physical camp goods and horse herds).

02-21-2014, 07:34 PM
I have been thinking a lot about the way we approach war and how our preconceptions make it impossible for us to defeat an enemy like AQ or the Taliban. Getting back to the threads main question, you can take the metric of killing [insert insurgent group name here] leadership to determine whether you are winning or losing the battle against the [insert insurgent group name here again (make sure they match)]. If you take the approach that killing insurgent leaders means that the group is now weaker, then killing more is good, killing less is bad. If you take the approach that killing insurgent leaders creates new insurgents, and then killing more is bad, killing less is good. The numbers mean little without a clear understanding of how they affect the enemy and the local population. Perhaps the numbers are totally meaningless as the benefit in temporarily disrupting insurgent operations is offset by the increase in insurgent ranks as well as creating a younger, more violent cadre.

Also on the top of how we see war is the oft cited maxim that "all war is political."* The objective of a punitive expedition may have little to do with reducing enemy capabilities.

The reason I called them punitive expeditions is that the campaigns were usually launched in response to a specific action or actions by the tribes, and the resources were often limited as well.

Like all other humans on earth, we American's seek revenge for acts perpetrated against us. Sometimes it is enough to just kick ass, take names, and go home. It was probably unlikely that the Afghan Taliban were going to invade New Jersey. Destoying them and allowing the Northern Alliance to take charge may (with some hesitation) have been enough. AQ is a different story.

* I firmly believe that the idea that "all war is political" leads us to attempt to interpret enemy insurgents and/or terrorists like AQ or the Taliban as rational actors (as opposed to religious fanatics) and therefore attempt to find centers of gravity, structures, or motivations to attack that we logically have, but they don't have or require.

02-21-2014, 08:07 PM

The problem is we can't or won't go after the leaders. They are and have been hiding out in Pakistan under the protection of the Pak Army/ISI. Any 'metric' (I hate that word) that seeks to measure that is meaningless because of that fact. Which gets us to Steve's point about actually knowing the enemy.