Reuters (et al.) recently posted an article about the number of ISIS militants killed in the past nine months: 10,000. Perhaps ironically, this statistic put me to mind of the gains made by ISIS in recent months, which would suggest that someone in the press farm churned out a seemingly significant number to help alleviate negative press over the coalition mission in the Middle East. However, the KPI of “average number of ISIS militants killed per month by coalition troops” ends up just that, a number, rather than any measure of efficiency and effectiveness.
The objective of the US mission is such: “The president has authorized U.S. Central Command to work with partner nations to conduct targeted airstrikes of Iraq and Syria as part of the comprehensive strategy to degrade and defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.” (US DOD)
5 Lines of Effort are involved:
- Providing military support to our partners;
- Impeding the flow of foreign fighters;
- Stopping ISIL’s financing and funding;
- Addressing humanitarian crises in the region; and
- Exposing ISIL’s true nature.
With such a broad mandate, the 10,000 killed seems an appropriately broad KPI to support the mandate of the operations. That kind of breadth still needs the proverbial depth. Thankfully, in researching what the actual mission statement was (or equivalent) for the operation led me to the following image, which shows that there are some KPIs out there that are actually more reflective of the mission’s efficiency and effectiveness:
Still, when greeted with KPIs, it would be good to know what the benchmarks are against which to measure these numbers. How many tanks are being used by ISIS? How many buildings? What kind of buildings? A breakdown of building types would be great; if militant homes are being destroyed, the global benefit is obviously less than if a central base is destroyed. What is defined as a fighting position? What are ‘other targets’ and should there be a breakdown? Numbers without context might as well be Greek to a Frau.
And, Bless the US. They also provided this important number: As of May 7, 2015, the total cost of operations related to ISIL since kinetic operations started on Aug. 8, 2014, is $2.44 billion and the average daily cost is $8.9 million.
This kind of fiscal transparency is particularly welcome, and a useful figure to know how much it costs, at least from a US perspective, to try to squash a very dangerous mosquito.
Holding the 10,000 KPI alongside the ones above makes the 10,000 seems somehow more relevant. What makes the 10,000 even more relevant is the number of ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria combined, which I came across the Canadian DND site: 30,000. If this number of 30,000 is correct (and, to be fair, it seems a bit conservative), then in the past 9 months, coalition forces have decimated a third of ISIS’ force. This mission is apparently a three-year operation, so to wipe out a third before the end of the first year, is doing rather well. On this note, it would have been useful if Reuters had made mention of the benchmark ISIS militant population against which to compare the 10,000, rather than just bandying about the figure.
The point here is two-fold: when releasing KPIs, even if they are relative to military operations, then those KPIs should be more meaningful and be placed in a context which the public can understand (this comment is for Reuters and all like news agencies).
Secondly, this seemingly impressive number still belies the question of why ISIS seems to be claiming so much ground in Iraq and Syria in recent months?