Retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal criticized counting the number of Islamic State terrorists killed by the U.S.-led coalition Sunday on This Week, saying “you can’t play a numbers game in this kind of effort.”
Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken said earlier this week that 10,000 IS fighters had been killed since the international campaign against the organization began nine months ago.
At the tactical level, you want dead jihadis because you want your force to be alive at the end of the fight and hold the terrain objective.
At the operational level, you want dead jihadis because you want your force to be able to protect the people in the theater of war and make them your asset and deny them from being an asset to the enemy. This dries up their recruiting pool, logistics support, intelligence assets, and sanctuaries; while allowing your side to recruit and gain intelligence on the enemy from the people.
At the strategic level, you want dead jihadis to buy time by protecting ourselves until the wider Islamic world first sees jihad against us as a one-way ticket to Paradise in a losing cause; and then rejects jihad as a part of their religious heritage.
Of course, in a conventional war the operational and strategic level objectives change to defeating the enemy military and seizing important terrain or compelling the enemy leadership to admit defeat.
This position on dead jihadis may seem odd since I've never been shy about saying the only good jihadi is a dead jihadi. I stand by that.
But I've also insisted that war is focused violence that must support achieving an objective, whether it is holding the terrain, securing the people, or changing a society. If you don't do that, recruitment for the jihad will outpace our ability to kill jihadis unless we go fully postal on the entire Islamic world. I hope it isn't necessary to argue against genocide.
At the practical level, if we start measuring success with body counts, we'll get bigger body counts to report. That's human nature. Any man of military age running away will be considered an ISIL fighter; and any man of military age standing still will be considered a well-disciplined ISIL fighter.
That will undermine achieving our operational and strategic objectives even if it doesn't affect individual tactical operations.
And if the wrong people are counting the jihadi bodies (that is, Republicans), isn't it just bombing brown people? Thank goodness a president with the middle name "Hussein" is doing the counting!