US Central Command backs out of agreement, refuses to release ISIS body count

A U.S. Soldier assigned to Charlie Battery, 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division observes a M777 A2 Howitzer fire in support of Iraqi security forces during the Mosul offensive at Platoon Assembly Area 14, Iraq, Dec. 7, 2016. Charlie Battery conducted the fire mission in support of Combined Joint Task Force - Operation Inherent Resolve, the global Coalition to defeat ISIL in Iraq and Syria. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Christopher Brecht)

The Pentagon is refusing to discuss the exact number of ISIS militants killed to the general public, according to a senior defense official.

According to information received from USA Today,  senior defense members speaking on the condition of anonymity say the estimated number of 50,000 militants killed since the beginning of the US-led war in 2014 is allegedly a conservative estimate.

While officials at US Central Command and the Pentagon had agreed to release more accurate enemy body count figures in November, the officials have reportedly backed out on the agreement.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, the British military releases the number of enemies killed, as well as how the numbers are counted and what weapons were used.

The American military’s refusal to release body counts is the result of a longstanding credo that body counts are counterproductive and have been since they were first truly quantified as a measure for success- back in the Vietnam War of the 1960s and 70s.

“People see such numbers as harkening back to Vietnam when we misdiagnosed progress based on body counts,” said Brookings Institution military analyst Michael O’Hanlon, who argues the counts “effectively turned field commanders into leaders incentivized to kill more in order to prove their merits.”

USA Today’s mystery official claims that the body counts only tend to keep pace with ISIS recruiting. For every 50,000 ISIS fighters, the militants maintain a healthy force of 20,000 and 30,000.

Intelligence expert and retired USAF colonel Scott Murray said counting the dead has been largely dismissed as a measure of success.

“It’s that simple,” Murray said. “Body counts are part of the narrative of how to lose a war.”

The US, however, is quick to claim credit for non-living kills, such as vehicles, oil tankers and buildings. While these targets are arguably manned, the notion of killing ISIS war materiel appears to be much easier for the US military to release to the public.

While one of USA Today’s sources argued that body counts show progress, O’Hanlon noted that fluctuating body count numbers over time can make it appear as if success is waning- creating a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” backlash.

“A reduction in body counts suggests the war isn’t going so well,” O’Hanlon  said. “An increase means either there are more enemy than you thought or you are killing more innocents than you were before.  It’s just, from military leadership’s point of view, a no-win proposition, especially in insurgencies where the supply of potential new recruits is often nearly limitless- so more attrition to the enemy, even if genuine, may not mean net progress in the campaign.”

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  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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