INDIA'S FORGOTTEN WAR – blogging naxalism.

Are the Naxalites Winning?

with 3 comments

The Indian government just released the official figures for combat deaths across all of the country’s insurgencies. I haven’t yet been able to track down the official report (if there is one), but, from what’s being reported in the media, it doesn’t look good for the government:

In Naxal affected States, the number of the number of Civilians and Security Forces personnel killed upto Oct.31, 2009 was 742 while it was 721 in 2008. However, the number of Naxalites killed during the same time is 170 (till Oct.31, 2009), which stood at 199 in 2008.

An approximate 4:1 ratio is not an indication of anything approximating victory. India The Indian government should be worried.

Written by Michael

December 9, 2009 at 8:38 pm

3 Responses

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  1. Telling who is winning at counterinsurgency is NOT about body counts. OK, it might be useful to know the numbers of civilian deaths caused by the bad guys as against those resulting from the security forces. But since the aim of counterinsurgency is to separate the people from the guerrillas and align them with the government, the real indicator is about where the active loyalties of the people are.

    There is a lot of discussion about COIN metrics, and a recent preview of a forthcoming book chapter on the subject is at:

    Anyone interested in the counterinsurgency literature could do worse than start with David Kilcullen’s book “The Accidental Guerrilla”.


    February 20, 2010 at 12:24 pm

    • Andrew,
      Interesting article. I’d like to get my hands on the book when it comes out. That being said, I think an overly dogmatic application of doctrine is dangerous. Yes, body counts per se are not necessarily a useful metric. However, when one has a ridiculously skewed ratio in favour of the insurgents (especially in a state with large military and police forces), it’s not beyond unreasonable to suggest that the military aspect of counter-insurgency is not going so well. Of course, it begs specific contextual questions, i.e. are the insurgents better motivated than the security forces, better armed, does the terrain give them a significant advantage, is the population supportive of them, etc… But, yeah, I just don’t see how one could say that body count ratios aren’t useful or indicative


      February 23, 2010 at 9:02 pm

  2. Michael,

    Perhaps we should park this one. The quote you started with, which is very interesting, combines civilian and security force deaths, so we don’t know how many civilians died, let alone who killed them. If the insurgents were killing more civilians than were the security forces, that might in a way be reassuring in that at least the authorities understood the main thrust of COIN (so let’s hope), although I’d agree it wouldn’t spell success for the authorities. Secondly, we obviously don’t know how many security force deaths occurred, either.

    Nor is the trend very informative.

    As for insurgent deaths, I agree that, given similar tactics and force levels between the two years, killing fewer insurgents *could* be a sign of less progress.

    But bear in mind that the figures may not be very reliable, as presumably the authorities/security forces have an incentive to exaggerate them and to label some innocent civilian deaths as insurgents.

    To reiterate my main point, mainstream COIN doctrine is about providing security, development opportunities and a political voice for the people. So killing more insurgents year on year wouldn’t necessarily mean the authorities were “winning”, and nor does the opposite necessarily apply. The insurgent body count would fall if the authorities were winning them over or scaring them away. While things “may not look good for the government” on their progress against insurgencies, I’m not sure this follows from the insurgent death figures quoted. Which of course is not to say that things do look good. As Kilcullen says, we need several indicators of progress.


    February 25, 2010 at 8:55 am

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