NAACSOS Annual Conference

Last week we presented work entitled, “A Systems Dynamics Model of Counterinsurgency in Southern Afghanistan” at the North American Association for Computational Social and Organization Sciences at the Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity at ASU. NAACSOS (which will be changing its name soon to the much more digestible acronym CSSS – Computational Social Science Society) is scholarly society seeking to advance social science through the application of computer simulation and other computer-based methods to the analysis of complex social systems and processes. In a break from our normal conference circuit, there were a small number of presentations focusing on global security issues. The largest percentage of papers addressed developments in agent-based modeling. In particular, the most interesting advance from this perspective involved the integration of GIS technologies and 3-D agents for visualization in agent-based models. Capturing more realistic movement of humans as agents in a model will allow for greater complexity, with particular implications for evacuation and disaster management and planning.

Our paper focusing on Southern Afghanistan was well received and fostered a lively debate. Our presentation related to our work to build a campaign design tool for counterinsurgency and stability, security, reconstruction, and transition (SSTR) operations. In this project we are researching the root causes of insurgency and instability and fusing this knowledge to doctrinal components to find vulnerability points in the insurgent system, modeling the insurgent environment for use by operational commanders in answering what-if type strategic planning and resource allocation questions in the design of campaigns. Our approach supports analysts, planners, and practitioners involved in asymmetric operations by providing operationally relevant information on the relationships between factors driving the insurgency and leverage points identified through counterinsurgency measures, helping to build a more effective campaign design for complex operations.

Integrated Feedback Loops of Instability in Southern Afghanistan:

Integrated Feedback Loops of Insurgency in Southern Afghanistan

The main questions that were raised during the presentation revolved around the utility of relying on the Counterinsurgency Field Manual, given its conceptual approach to operations. This is a familiar criticism we have heard regarding the Field Manual, which was released in 2006. Additionally, a major focus of the conference was on validation of models. Given that our model is more of a conceptual framework for critical thinking as opposed to a black box model, that our project is based on qualitative rules from peer-reviewed and authoritative sources, we offered a different approach to traditional model validation requirements.

The most relevant presentation for our work in complex operations was from the U.S. Army TRADOC Analysis CenterCultural Geography Model Use in Support of Human in the Loop Experimentation”. This project involved developing an agent-based model of a civilian population to determine responses to government and stability force actions in a counterinsurgency environment. The population was based on data from the city of Amara in Iraq. This model was interesting in that the population was the center-of-gravity, to use Clausewitzian terms, rather than more traditional insurgency-focused representations.

An additional paper of interest involved work out of George Mason University focusing on an agent-based model of kinship relationships in Pakistan. This presentation focused on developing a model based on qualitative rules from anthropological research that informs a template for the actual computer code. While this work is still in its early stages, the goal is to enable prediction of alliance formation.

A personal highlight of the conference revolved around the presentation by Zachary Schaffer on “The Foundress’ Dilemma: An Agent-Based Model of Colony-Founding Strategy in Ants”. This research was looking at the phenomenon whereby unrelated ant foundresses (queen ants essentially that found new colonies) can form seemingly altruistic cooperatives with other foundresses in establishing new colonies. In learning about cooperative colony foundation, I was able to tour the various species of ant colonies kept at the Center for research. Satisfying my itch for an ant farm growing up, it was a fascinating experience.