Afghan and Iraqi Metrics and the IED Threat

The Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO) recently issued updated information on the IED threat in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Burke Chair has prepared short analyses of the trends in the data for both Iraq and Afghanistan, which are now available on the CSIS web site.


IED casulaties are now far lower for US forces, although the trend may be very different for Iraqis. No American soldiers were killed in August and September by IEDs. This coincided with the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq in August, leaving behind a maxium of 50,000 troops.  A total of eight U.S. soldiers were killed by IEDs so far in 2010, as compared to 40 in the same period in 2009.

A total of 224 U.S. soldiers in Iraq were wounded by IEDs in 2010 through October 1st, or about 25 per month, with a peak in February. This compares to 305 in the same period in 2009, or about 34 injuries caused by IEDs per month. These numbers demonstrate a dramatic drop in IED injuries from previous years. Between 2004 and 2008, the average number of U.S. soldiers wounded by IEDs was roughly 336 a month. 


The situation is very different in Afghanistan. IED attacks have continued to increase, both in terms of WIA and KIA. The updated data shows this increase through September 2010. The data show a dramatic increase in both KIA and WIA beginning in mid-2009 and continuing steadily throughout 2010, corresponding with increased frequency of overall attacks in Afghanistan in response to the troop surge.

Soldiers wounded in IED attacks reached its peak in September 2010, with 388 wounded, as compared to 179 wounded in September 2009, and 18 wounded in September 2008. US soldier casualties from IED attacks reached their peak in July 2010, with 41 soldiers killed in that month.
A total of 539 US soldiers have been killed in action, and 4,845 wounded in action, from IEDs in Afghanistan over the past 9 years.

Metrics and analysis

The analyses in these reports explore a wide range of ways to analyze the trends in IED numbers, effects, and casualties. They illustrate the need to approach metrics and analysis in ways that fully define and explore the possible ways of actually presenting relevant data. They explore a wide range of ways to use the same data to produce insights into a critical aspect of combat. In the process, they provide a warning about two aspects of far too much of the effort to develop comprehensive metrics on the Afghan and Iraq conflicts.

  • First, they show how many different ways the same raw data can be presented. This can be a critical issue when metrics are used in ways where only the metric is presented and not the raw data, and there is no way to know how different ways of using the data would change the result. The end result is “black box” analysis, and it is often made worse by the failure to source data, provide any estimate of uncertainty, or the confused of uncertainties based on statistics alone and not quality of the input data.
  • Second, some of the suggested analytic models to cover Iraq and Afghan metrics are far worse. They suggest analytic frameworks and metrics that go from “black box” to “empty box.” They describe metrics and reporting procedures in broad narrative terms without any discussion of the uncertainties involved, any examples of how the metric would actually look as reported, and without any exploration of the different ways in which data can be presented.

Neither of approach to analysis properly serves the user in exploring the options available in developing better metrics, but the latter mistake is not forgivable in a reputable model or analytic effort.

All government and contract work on possible models and methods for analyzing Afghan and Iraqi that explores different approaches to wartime metrics should explicitly address the uncertainties involved, provide examples of how the metric would actually look once reported, and explore the different ways in which data can be presented. If the work is simply conceptual, or little more than an outline that fails to provide specifics and explore alternative ways of analyzing and portraying the data, it is simply of unacceptable quality.

Anthony H. Cordesman

Anthony H. Cordesman

Former Emeritus Chair in Strategy

Marissa Allison,

Vivek Kocharlakota,

Jason Lemieux,

Charles Loi