Insurgencies are amongst the hardest conflicts to predict. Insurgents can be loosely organized, split into factions, and strike from out of nowhere. But now researchers have demonstrated that with enough data, you might actually predict where insurgent violence will strike next. The results, though, don’t look good for the U.S.-led war.
And they’re also laden with irony. The data the researchers used was purloined by WikiLeaks, which the Pentagon has tried to suppress. And the Pentagon has struggled for years to develop its own prediction tools.
That data would be the “Afghan War Diary,” a record of 77,000 military logs dated between 2004 and 2009 that were spilled onto the internet two years ago by WikiLeaks. In a paper published Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of researchers used the leaked logs to (mostly) accurately predict violence levels in Afghanistan for the year 2010. (Behind a paywall, alas, but a summary is available for free in .pdf.)
It sounds simple. Take six years worth of data, plug in the right formulas, and out comes results that gives a “deeper insight in the conflict dynamics than simple descriptive methods by providing a spatially resolved map of the growth and volatility of the conflict,” the researchers write. In practice, it’s maddeningly complicated — and suggests that the insurgency has successfully withstood the recent surge of U.S. troops.