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Interesting – Insurgent attacks follow a universal pattern of timing and casualties.

December 19, 2009

Seemingly random attacks and a shadowy, mysterious enemy are the hallmarks of insurgent wars, such as those being fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many social scientists, as well as the military, hold that, like conventional civil wars, these conflicts can’t be understood without considering local factors such as geography and politics. But a mathematical model published today in Nature (see Nature 462, 911–914; 2009) suggests that insurgencies have a common underlying pattern that may allow the timing of attacks and the number of casualties to be predicted.


I think I saw something similar on NUMB3RS but I can’t quite place the episode.

(…)Johnson and his colleagues argue that the pattern arises because insurgent wars lack a coherent command network and operate more as a “soup of groups”, in which cells form and disband when they sense danger, then reform in different sizes and composition. The timing of attacks, the authors say, is driven by competition between insurgent groups for media attention.

Johnson, who has presented preliminary versions of the work to the US military, says that the findings allow a glimpse into the heart of insurgency behaviour. “We can get a sense of what is going on and what might happen if we intervened in certain ways,” he says. He is now working to predict how the insurgency in Afghanistan might respond to the influx of foreign troops recently announced by US President Barack Obama.

My above claim about NUMB3RS is incorrect. This is based on the Power Law

A power law is a special kind of mathematical relationship between two quantities. If one quantity is the frequency of an event, and the other is the size of the event, then the relationship has a power-law distribution when the frequency of the event decreases at a greater rate than the size increases. For instance, an earthquake twice as large is four times as rare. If this pattern holds for earthquakes of all sizes, then the distribution is said to “scale.” Power laws also describe other kinds of relationships, such as the metabolic rate of a species and its body mass (called Kleiber’s law), and the size of a city and the number of patents it produces. What this relationship means is that there is no typical size in the conventional sense. Power laws are found throughout the natural and manmade worlds, and are an active area of scientific research.

Another example of the Power Law is the 80/20 rule – for example 80% of crimes are commited by 20% of criminals so you best method of lowering the crime rate is to target that 20%. It makes sense that it would probably have some application in this type of situation also.

Our course is now clear – We must send Charlie Epps to Afghanistan.

UpdateApparently this is old news. I knew I had seen something similar before but I was thinking it was on TV. I don’t know why this is just now making Nature.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 19, 2009 9:13 am

    Well, the proof in the pudding will be having the researches standing by at the predicted time/location of the attack.

    • jenn1964 permalink*
      December 19, 2009 9:30 am

      I was thinking a little more on the lines of regressive analysis to develop a predictive model and seeing how accurate that was. I watch NUMB3RS I know that shouldn’t take more than one commercial break.

  2. xbradtc permalink
    December 19, 2009 11:36 am

    I’m really bad at math, but I do know that Task Force Odin, the team devoted to tracking down IED makers, had a lot of success using mathematical analysis to predict where and when IED attacks would occur, and backing from that, develop intel on where the bombmakers were likely based.

    • jenn1964 permalink*
      December 19, 2009 12:31 pm

      I had never heard of Task Force Odin but my bet is they are using some variant of this.


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