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Modelling a Typical Guerrilla War

Modelling a Typical Guerrilla War

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Published by: Jim Cooper on Apr 23, 2010
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Modelling a Typical Guerrilla War
Jim Doran
 Department of Computer ScienceUniversity of Essexdoraj@essex.ac.uk 
 An agent-based modelof a typical guerrilla war, the Iruba model, has been designed and implemented based upon published descriptions and theories of  guerrilla warfare. Experimental results have beenobtained with the model and conclusions drawn. Acore feedback loop is detected. The possibility of using the Iruba model to predict the outcomes of specific guerrilla wars is discussed and it is suggested that  such predictive models are feasible and are potentiallyuseful tools for peacemakers.
1. Introduction
The practice and the study of guerrilla warfare are both at least as old as recorded history (e.g. thewritings of Sun Tzu in the fourth century BC [19]).Although the concept of guerrilla warfare is perhaps alittle unclear, all agree that it involves asymmetricforces with the weaker force (in conventional terms)deploying mobility and surprise “hit and run” tactics,and using difficult terrain or a sympathetic general population as a safe refuge as required. Typically thereis an “insurgency” and “regime forces”.Complementary political action is entwined. “Terror”may be used at an extreme by either side e.g. [18]either as a consequence of a failure of discipline or as adeliberate means to victory.Relatively modern studies of guerrilla warfare,such as those of [1], [3], [10], [15], [20], offer generalinsights coupled with practical guidance, from the perspective of both insurgents and counter-insurgents.There are more than a dozen ongoing guerrillaconflicts worldwide (notably in Chechnya, Columbia,Iraq, Nepal, Spain, Sri Lanka) in various stages of development. Thus there is a pressing need for maximum scientific understanding to be achieved.In agent-based social modelling on a computer [4],[5], [7], [11], the model embodies aspects of individualor collective decision-making. Thus this type of modelling offers a means to achieve newunderstandings and to enhance those alreadydocumented in the technical literature of guerrillawarfare.Previous and relevant agent-based modellingstudies are those of Epstein [8] and Raczynski [17].Epstein reports an interesting series of experimentswith a model that captures a form of “decentralisedrebellion” reflecting initial population grievance levelsand degree of perceived regime legitimacy. The modelis grounded at the level of the individual and targets“recognisable macroscopic revolutionary dynamics”and effective methods of suppression. Raczynski’sstudy puts the emphasis on the dynamics of terroristand counter-terrorist organisational structures and onthe process of destroying terrorist organization links bythe anti-terrorist agents. Again, agents correspond toindividuals. Neither study seeks objectively to model aguerrilla war as a whole.There is much ongoing work deployingsimulations and “intelligent” agents in mainstreamdefence contexts. Since 1983 the USA DefenseResearch Projects Agency (DARPA) has supported thedevelopment of fine-grained synthetic battlefieldscontaining multiple intelligent agents e.g. [13]. Thiseffort has been primarily for training, mission planningand rehearsal, and weapon-system concept evaluationrather than the building of objective scientificunderstanding. Other recent defense work has deployedagent-oriented systems development e.g. [18].
2. The Iruba Model
Standard agent-based social modelling procedureenvisages the following stages: initial study of targetsocial “system”, formulation of model, validation of model, use of model to gain insights into target system.Key issues are the choice of computational structures
Proceedings of the IEEE Workshop on Distributed Intelligent Systems: Collective Intelligence and Its Applications (DIS’06)0-7695-2589-X/06 $20.00 © 2006
to represent agents, the nature of agent interactions, theagents’ joint environment, and the specific techniquesadopted to validate the model, that is, to ensure itsreliability as a source of insight about the target.The Iruba (
) project [6] is followingthis approach to construct and experiment with ageneral model of a guerrilla war sufficiently realistic tooffer new insights into dynamics or to further developexisting insights. In the model agents correspond toguerrilla bands, regime bases or outposts, and toheadquarters on each side. A particular objective is toestablish sets of conditions expressed in terms of themodel’s parameters and structures that guarantee thatan insurgency will succeed or, alternatively, fail.The Iruba model has been made broadly realistichaving regard to the relevant literature. In particular,the model is loosely based on (extensive descriptionsof) guerrilla wars that took place in the last century inIreland (1919-1921) and in Cuba (1956-1959), withsome further features drawn from the Arab Revoltagainst the Turks in the Hejaz (1917-1918) towards theend of the First World War. It is important to recognisethat in many published descriptions of insurgenciesthere is much that is inaccurate and biased to one sideor the other. This is certainly true of aspects of the Irishinsurgency as has been demonstrated by Hart [12]. Nevertheless, reliable sources for the foregoingconflicts are [3] and [12].The main structural and behavioural concepts usedin building the Iruba model are drawn from the Irishinsurgency: near autonomous regions with only limitedcentral control; mobility; limited weaponry; theimportance of terrain; and the importance of ideologyand popular support. Correspondingly, the Iruba modelis structured as a network of 32 relatively autonomousregions on an island that vary in terrain and population.The population of a region provides a (finite)recruitment pool for both insurgents and regime forces.Initially the regime forces are relatively numerous,distributed in bases over the island, and relativelystatic, whilst the insurgents are small in number,localised, mobile and hard to find. As indicated,computational agents represent guerrilla cells/bandsand regime bases and insurgent and regimeheadquarters. Attacks take place within regionsfollowing simple rational strategies. For example, aguerrilla band may attack a poorly defended regime base, with the outcome dependent upon terrain, relativenumbers and weaponry, and random factors. Asuccessful attack may well lead to capture of weapons.Movement of insurgent or regime forces betweenneighbouring regions takes place under appropriateconditions. For example, neither the forces that aremoved nor those that remain behind are left atsignificant risk. Recruitment to insurgents and toregime forces (and defection from regime forces)reflects the numbers and attitudes of the so far uncommitted general population of the region inquestion. This population will partially support theinsurgents, and will partially be aware of theinsurgency, depending upon the conflict history in thatregion. These two “population attitude” variables andtheir use are intended to go some way towardscapturing the dynamics of population opinion and itsimpact upon the course of the insurgency.The core cycle of the model may be expressed inoutline pseudo-code as:
 Repeat  Attacks and their impact  HQ decisions Recruitment  Force movement Until termination
As indicated above, a degree of central control by“headquarters” agents is possible for both sides. If aninsurgency grows, regime force may be concentratedinto regions where the insurgency is at its strongest.Furthermore, faced with a dangerous insurgency theregime may take “all out” measures (comparable with,for example, the so called “Salvador option”).
On theother side, in appropriate circumstances the insurgentsmay be switched into “hyper-mobile” mode(comparable with the use of “flying columns” by theIRA in Ireland) and/or an “all out” attack across arange of regions or even the entire island, may betriggered (compare the Tet Offensive in the Vietnamwar).Victory in this model is a matter either of insurgent annihilation, or of the insurgents achievingmassive numerical superiority and hence, byassumption, political power. At several points themodel invokes chance factors using a pseudo-randomnumber generator. Consequently the success or failureof an insurgency may vary with the pseudo-randomnumber stream seed even if all other model setting arethe same. The Iruba model has been implemented inthe C programming language. Although some modelvariables (e.g. population support for insurgents) areupdated by simple mathematical relationships, manyaspects of the model structure are much more complex.For example, agents (guerrilla bands, regime bases andHQs) are essentially expressed as sets of conditionalrules. Thus, even if feasible, a more formalmathematical or logical specification of the modelindependent of the code would achieve nothing.
For the “Salvador option” see Michael Hirsh and John Barry, NEWSWEEK, Jan 10
, 2005.
Proceedings of the IEEE Workshop on Distributed Intelligent Systems: Collective Intelligence and Its Applications (DIS’06)0-7695-2589-X/06 $20.00 © 2006
Figure 1. A simulated insurgency “takes off” but is then defeated by regime counter-action.
See main text for further commentary.
Figure 2. The spatial distribution of theinsurgency of Fig 1 as it is on cycle 84 (justafter its maximum).
The insurgents (darker) are stillconcentrated around their start point in the(mountainous) “north-west” of the Iruba “island”. Mostof the “island” remains under regime (lighter) controland the regime is beginning to regain control of thecore region of the insurgency.
3. Results and Interpretations
A typical insurgency within the Iruba model isshown in Figure 1. This particular insurgency failsafter making good initial progress. The regime goesinto a sustained “all-out” mode when the insurgencyreaches a certain size (in this case, 15000 personnel intotal; see Table 4). The immediate effect of thisenhanced campaign is spatially to contain theinsurgency and it is ultimately decisive, in spite of further insurgent successes, when the recruitment pool
Guidance on downloading and running the Iruba code is available by email from the author.
within the insurgency area is exhausted. It is importantto keep in mind that the number of weapons availableto the insurgents is restricted by their ability to captureweapons from the regime forces. This means that for much of the time the insurgency in Figure 1 is muchless powerful than its numbers suggest. Figure 2 is asnapshot of the spatial development of this insurgencyat its maximum showing how it has spread out from itsregion of origin in the mountainous “north-west” of the“island”.Experimental trials
with the Iruba model show, asexpected, that victory for the insurgents or for theregime in the model depends crucially upon parameter settings. Initial experiments have focused on theimpact of the initial size of the insurgent group, and of a limited form of central decision making by bothinsurgents and regime forces. Part of the motivation for these experiments has been to test
theory as propounded by Guevara and Debray ([3], page 170-1)following Castro’s success. This holds that even a verysmall dedicated group of insurgents will succeed provided that they have a political as well as militarystrategy, and provided that there is a significant levelof initial support in the population at large.Iruba results (Table 1) suggest that, with this particular calibration of the model, an initial band sizeof about 40 is needed to give the insurgents a 50%chance of success. The insurgent success rate issignificantly reduced if there is an element of centralised force concentration on the regime side. Inthis (and the following) experiments the population ineach region was initially set at 10,000 and was initially
Using Iruba version 5.9. Some of these results were first reported in[6].
A Major Insurgency is Defeated
        1        1        4        2        7        4        0        5        3        6        6        7        9        9        2        1        0        5        1        1        8        1        3        1        1        4        4        1        5        7        1        7        0        1        8        3        1        9        6        2        0        9        2        2        2        2        3        5        2        4        8
Simulation Cycles ("weeks")
   C  o  m   b  a   t  a  n   t  s  a  n   d   A  c   t   i  v   i  s   t  s
Proceedings of the IEEE Workshop on Distributed Intelligent Systems: Collective Intelligence and Its Applications (DIS’06)0-7695-2589-X/06 $20.00 © 2006

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