Al Qaeda in Iraq and Kill Ratios in MOUT

BY Herschel Smith
7 years, 6 months ago

In a stark admission of the casualty rate for al Qaeda in Iraq, al Masri has divulged enemy intelligence to the coalition:

CAIRO, Egypt — The new leader of al-Qaida in Iraq said in an audio message posted on a Web site Thursday that more than 4,000 foreign insurgent fighters have been killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. It was believed to be the first major statement from insurgents in Iraq about their losses.

“The blood has been spilled in Iraq of more than 4,000 foreigners who came to fight,” said the man, who identified himself as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir – also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri – the leader of al-Qaida in Iraq. The voice could not be independently identified.

The good news is that Iraq, while not being touted as such, is important to the GWOT because, if nothing else, it has become a place where literally thousands of terrorists can be killed.  The notion that this is a bad thing is a political talking point, but militarily, is nonsensical if we see the GWOT as being a larger, regional, and protracted campaign that must be won on soil other than America.

Of course, there is bad news, and the bad news is sobering.  In my post Afghanistan, Talibanistan, Waziristan and Kill Ratios, I conservatively calculated a kill ratio in recent Afghanistan action of 50:1.  Considering U.S. mortalities of 3022 as I write this post, and using a value of 4000 al Qaeda in Iraq, the Iraqi situation is much worse.  I calculate a kill ratio of 1.324.

A kill ratio is not simply a clinical number.  These are the sons of America, and it behooves us to understand the difference between Afghan fighting and the war in Iraq.

While it is easy to second-guess each strategic decision and tactical blunder that has been made, several things can be pointed out that might have contributed to this stark difference.  While there is a resurgence of the Taliban in Waziristan, at least initially, the enemy was routed and driven out of Afghanistan.  Conventional operations did not cease until the territory was relatively secure.  The enemy, even now, is being fought primarily on terrain other than urban, and in Iraq, the prevalence of MOUT (Military Operations on Urban Terrain) is noteworthy.

As I have pointed out in previous posts, bypassing large urban centers on our drive to Baghdad put a quick end to conventional operations and a start to counterinsurgency operations, but this cessation was likely premature.  Fallujah was taken with relatively few casualties compared to the continually increasing casualty count in the al Anbar Province.  We have left the enemy in Ramadi, Haditha, al Haqlaniyah, Habaniyah, and other highly urbanized parts of al Anbar, and consistently use COIN tactics to effect enemy casualties, but this leads also to a high casualty rate for U.S. troops.

The lesson is simple.  When a strategy of COIN is intended and employed in large urban areas where large numbers of the enemy have been intentionally left to operate, the kill ratio does not even come close to comparing with conventional operations.

This should cause us to think long and hard in the future about the cessation of conventional operations and the invocation of counterinsurgency operations.



  • Ernest

    I agree that conventional ops are preferable to COIN in terms of kill ratio.

    On the other hand, just how badly things are going right now depends on the source of our numbers. al-Masri states that “more than 4000″ of the foreign fighters have been killed. This admission is something, but it a)doesn’t let us know just how many more than 4000 are dead; and b)leaves out domestic insurgents allied with al-Qaeda (mainly Sunnis) who have died. Since al-Masri is an important by no means the top insurgent dog (a lot of ex-Baath and military types are involved separately), he can’t speak for total insurgent casualties. Outside estimates of insurgent deaths since the end of the conventional phase range from 5K to 55K! al-Masri’s 4K indicates that the total for all insurgents is probably well above 5K.

    For the US casualties: the WaPo 3022 reported deaths include OEF casualties. Also, we can look only at combat deaths, and only at those that occurred during the counter-insurgent phase, i.e. after May, 2003. If we do this, the number of US deaths in counter-insurgent ops in Iraq stands at just over 2000.

    Depending on where you think the real number of insurgent deaths lies on the 5000 to 55000 continuum, we’re left with anywhere from a 1:2.5 to a 1:11 kill ratio.

    Much better than 1:1.3, in other words, but still unacceptable, especially if extended combat ops could have killed off more of the enemy in 2003. And if you add in the 200 coalition allies who have died in coin ops, then the 6200 or so Iraqi police and military killed by the insurgents, the ratio moves back down towards Mr. Smith’s initial figure.

  • Herschel Smith

    Ernest,

    This is the kind of educated, thoughtful comment I just love on my blog. It makes me think and parse more carefully than I sometimes do, and it continues the discussion I began with the post.

    I knew that my numbers were approximate. For example, I knew that including the WaPo numbers did not categorize between conventional and COIN ops, and so I lumped the two together (although the value for al Qaeda would have seemed to me to be more correct, since they were not active in the initial month of the war — they were a late addition).

    But it would appear that your challenge to my numbers wins. I am further off than a slight approximation. On the other hand, even if we arrived at a ratio of about 10:1, the import is the same. There would still be a factor of five difference between Afghanistan and Iraq. Premature invocation of COIN is dangerous and even foolhardy, and given the situation on the ground in Iraq, it is not clear that it has gained us any advantage whatsoever.

    I welcome any other reader to contribute to this ratio with his own data. Please cite source or provide hyperlink.

  • http://www.redstate.com streiff

    I find the discussion over casualty ratios, in general, and particularly in Iraq to be less than enlightening.

    The best estimates of al Qaeda strength in Iraq indicate it has never exceeded 2500 or so and is now estimated to be around 700. If al Masri is correct, and btw there is no real reason to assume that he knows how many al Qaeda exist in Iraq much less how many have been killed, then we have essentially caused 200% casualties in that force. Logic tells you that an organization that suffers that many casualties is perpetually integrated new, untried, fighters.

    By focusing on the al Masri number we ignore the fighters in the indigenous insurgency and the Mahdi Army who have been killed. We ignore those rendered hors de combat through debilitating injuries — we also have weapons which maim just as efficiently as they kill and moreso when the target does not have body armor, ballistic glasses, helmet, SAPI plate, and access to first rate medical care. Quite honestly, the unknowns in this analysis overwhelm the knowns because we really know nothing save the number of US killed and wounded.

    We also ignore those in custody who are just as surely finished as those killed. If one looks at the Falaise Pocket (Aug 12-21, 1944) the kill ratios there favored the Germans. The 50,000 prisoners taken were, however, as out of the war as the 10,000 dead. The government of Iraq hanged 27 of them on one day last week. Dozens more receive long prison sentences each week.

    It also assumes that the Iraqi Army and police are, in fact, neither fighting nor dying.

    The real issue with casualties is not kill ratios, as we were taught about the Soviet Army “quantity has a quality all its own,” the issue is whether the casualties are impairing combat operations.

    The Iraqi Army and police continue to have strong recruitment so it would seem that al Qaeda has failed if this was one of their goals. Empirically, the US Army and Marines are exceeding reenlistment goals and making recruitment goals. None of this is to say things are hunky-dory but it is to say that if we are driven out of Iraq it will not be because of our kill ratio vis a vis al Qaeda or the insurgency.

  • Herschel Smith

    Perhaps you missed the point. The point has nothing to do with magnitude or “being driven out of Iraq.” It has to do with choice of strategy and the efficiency thereof.

  • http://www.redstate.com streiff

    Not at all. I am simply pointing out that you are making an extremely flawed analysis.

    First, most of the casualties in Iraq have not been in MOUT. Second, most of the contact in Iraq has not been against al Qaeda.

    The major instances of MOUT thus far have been Nasariyah (Saddam Fedayeen), Baghdad (Saddam Fedayeen), Fallujah I and II (mixed bag of insurgents and al Qaeda), Karbala-Najaf, Mosul (detritus from Fallujah II, and Ramadi (again a mixed bag).

    In short, you don’t really have a connection between al Qaeda and MOUT in any way. The closest one could come to making this connection would be in Mosul following December 2004.

    As by all estimates al Qaeda has represented only a small fraction of the opposing force, comparing total US casualties to an al Qaeda guesstimate is simply and apples-oranges comparison. As we have no way of knowing which al Qaeda were killed in an urban environment and which were killed by Iraqi forces or tribal militias even if we knew with certainty the al Qaeda casualties it would be just as fallacious.

    So with what we do know, which is barely more than zero, it seems more than a little premature to attempt to make judgments on a tactical scheme.

  • Breakerjump

    Honestly, Streiff, all analyses are flawed to a certain degree, which is why people who analyze scenarios professionally, such as the Captain here, leave a safety margin in doing so. For instance, a bolt on a vehicle has a torque rating that allows for margin of error, because human analysis is inherently flawed.

    Anyway, the conclusion of the low-level analysis here not only leaves a wide margin of ratio, but is also supported by “common sense.” Conventional operations leave our troops with advantage that cannot be gained via COIN operations in large urban areas. I have a good friend who works the street for LAPD, for instance. He states that a LAPD SWAT raid (LAPD is very proficient at these sorts of operations) is absolutely horrifying to witness and take part in, partly because of the unknown. I myself operate as a law enforcement officer in “coral” situations while severely outmanned and outgunned, usually with one other operator, and I can tell you that at times, it is horrifying. It is a trying task to delineate friend from foe.

    Now, give our Marines the option of rolling through with tanks and 7-tons and inflicting conventional, total warfare upon their enemies, or bypassing zones of embedded fighters only to return later – SWAT style – to room clear.

    The point here is that the statistical kill ratio is unacceptable. The margin of ratios the Captain and Ernest worked up is absolutely sane and reasonable. They are also a product of pussified, political, bureaucratic “counter-insurgency operations” that have left our Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors and Marines with unnecessary casualties and criminal charges.

    We should have learned our lesson from General Sherman. Let our Marines annihilate, or bring them the hell home.

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You are currently reading "Al Qaeda in Iraq and Kill Ratios in MOUT", entry #306 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Iraq,War & Warfare,Weapons and Tactics and was published September 29th, 2006 by Herschel Smith.

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