Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development


NATO Wants Sim Afghanistan to Test War Plans

Noah Shachtman, Wired: Danger Room, 2 February 2009

NATO commanders in Afghanistan want a virtual version of the country, to test out battle plans and forecast future unrest.

Afghanistan’s often-explosive mix of tribal, ethnic and religious power politics has been catching outsiders off-guard for the last couple-thousand years. This time around, America and her western allies are trying two controversial, competing approaches, to prepare for the surprises. One embeds in combat units social scientists, trained in making foreign cultures more understandable. The other dumps everything that’s known about the country into a software model — and then watches what develops in this Sim Afghanistan.

Last last week, NATO began its search for for the newest “simulation capability.” This one should “be able to model the Afghanistan engagement space in the Political, Military, Economic, Social, Infrastructure and Information (PMESII)

 domains,” a call for white papers notes. With all that information in hand, war planners can then “assess and validate how specific future events or actions could impact on the current situation through the creation and simulation of a hypothetical/simulated environment.”

According to the RFI that NATO has issued, the simulation is intended to provide ISAF with “a simulation capability to assess the potential projected outcomes of possible courses of action, resulting from the planning process”:

This will allow ISAF operational planners to assess and validate how specific future events or actions could impact on the current situation through the creation and simulation of a hypothetical/simulated enironment. Because of the complexity of the Afghan environment and the interaction with people and organizations, the capability shall include aspects of Political, Military, Social, Infrastructure, and Education (PMESII) domains as well as other aspects of the environment including terrorism and insurgency.


"Minesweeper Afghanistan"—I assume they're looking for something a little more sophisticated than this...

As with Noah Shachtman at Wired and several military experts quoted in his piece, I’m rather doubtful of the ability to computer-model the “non-kinetic” parts of COIN operations with any meaningful degree of accuracy. This could be problematic, given that the most difficult part of COIN and stabilization operations are precisely how military operations affect local attitudes, local structures of power, the impact of aid, the nature of local tribal structures and coalition-building, and so forth. If one simplifies this (or fails to allow for such unintended consequences as collateral damage to civilians), it seems to me that one risks operations planning built on very dubious foundations.

hat-tip: Mike Innes at Complex Terrain Lab

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