Infographics Shed Light on IED Strategy in Afghanistan

Researcher and former Army officer Alec Barker creates heat maps that illustrate how the Afghan fight is evolving.

Afghanistan map

It's crazy to think, but according to Alec Barker, a National Security Analyst and former U.S. Army officer, we don't have a very firm grasp on the nature of IED attacks in Afghanistan. Sure, there's some general sense of the problem and analysis of the proliferation of certain techniques, such as suicide bombing--but there's never been a granular study of how IED tactics and strategies are evolving in Afghanistan as the war goes on.

By combining four different data sets, Barker was able to create 42 maps of IED attacks in Afghanistan over the last seven years. And using those maps, he was able to draw conclusions about how the war is evolving, the aims of the major factions involved, and strategies in play. All from some fairly straightforward infographics.

The maps are divided into types of IED, and they show how lethal and frequent each one has been over time. The conclusions that Barker draws require a pretty fine grained understanding of the conflict, but it's easy to see how they'd be applied to real Army decision making--for example, Barker describes how the Taliban seems callous to hurting civilians, while Baloch separatists are more careful to avoid innocents and aim their attacks and infrastructure.

Barker also manages to paint a more subtle picture of the "Iraq effect"--the idea that veterans of the Iraq insurgency are training the Taliban in bomb making. That might still be true, but Barker uses these graphs to show that the Taliban, aided by training and information-sharing, are able to learn new tactics faster than ever before and disseminate them farther.

Which makes you think: Shouldn't the Army--just like the White House--have infographics specialists on hand, given how much data the military is already gathering, and how little use is being made of it? In the future, its not hard to believe that this might be the difference between finding a reasonable strategy--and floundering without effect.

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