Agent-Based Simulations as a Modeling Solution for Understanding Use of Improvised Explosive Devices in Insurgencies and Rebellions

Ian Lustick, Patrick O’Mahen, Miguel Garces, Thomas McCauley

During military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) became the single most deadly weapon used by insurgents against the U.S. military and allies. In response, the U.S. Department of Defense has spent roughly $75 billion on vehicles and equipment designed to counter IEDs during the length of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts (Zoroya, 2013). The focus of the vast majority of this spending to counter IEDs has been on narrow technical approaches to counter the problem, including for example 22,000 Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles (MRAPs) that alone cost $36 billion (Carey & Yossef, 2011). This emphasis on detecting IEDs in place or directly protecting soldiers, while understandable, ignores broader questions about the use of IEDs in insurgencies that are useful to both policymakers and field commanders. We use this paper to theorize about and develop methods to answer the question of under what circumstances would an insurgent group deploy IEDs instead of other available weapons. To bridge this gap, we build on Wood’s concept of the “repertoire of violence” (2006) as a foundation for constructing a theoretical model of the changing patterns in the use by insurgents of different weapon types. Next, we mine both scholarly and journalistic descriptions of IED use in numerous insurgencies to outline distinctive features of IED use in conflicts. We then develop a country-level Agent-Based Model (ABM) for studying the interactive and evolutionary dynamics produced by competition within an insurgency among different tactics available to insurgents.

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