Researchers say computer programme can help predict Afghanistan war

Andrew Zammit-Mangion of the University of Edinburgh was part of the team which put together the computer model

SCOTTISH researchers say they have developed a computer programme which can help predict trouble spots in the war in Afghanistan.

In a study involving Edinburgh University’s computer science department, researchers used data from the Wikileaks war logs to try and predict how the conflict would develop.

They correctly found violence was on the increase in 2010, including in some of the more peaceful parts of the country.

The information came from thousands of classified documents, including incident reports from the front lines, which were released by WikiLeaks in 2010.

The model was developed on desktop computers, and the researchers hope their computer code will be used to uncover more about the conflict.


Edinburgh University worked with Sheffield and Columbia universities to develop the computer model.

Andrew Zammit-Mangion of Edinburgh University’s School of Informatics said: “Although wars and conflicts may consist of seemingly random events this statistical model was able to chart these events in time and geographical space and reveal patterns which can provide reliable probabilities of future events.”

He continued: “Regarding hot spots, from the results you could tell that several provinces were going to fair worse in 2010 than in 2009 and in fact the model correctly told whether there will be escalation or de-escalation in 82% of the provinces.

“This included escalation in some of the generally more peaceful provinces like Sari Pul, Balkh and Baghlan.”



But the data also showed some provinces would experience a downturn in violence.

He said: “Despite the overall predicted increasing trend, de-escalation was also predicted frequently – for example in Nuristan and Bamyan.

“We are still far off from saying exactly what will happen – what we showed is that we can clearly identify trends and give probabilities on what is going happen.”

The computer programme was able to narrow down how many insurgent attacks each province would face in 2010.

Mr Zammit-Mangion said: “For example in Badakshan the model (from data until 2009) gave a 80% probability that, there will be between 15 and 85 armed opposition group (AOG) attacks in 2010, there were in fact 35, so it fits.

“In Baghlan the model gave a 80% probability that there will be between 106 and 546 AOG attacks, there were in fact 228.”


“Spatiotemporal modelling”

Mr Zammit-Mangion has put the code for the computer model, which uses an approach called “spatiotemporal modelling”, on his website for others to use and improve on.

The approach has been used in the past to help predict climate change

The researchers say the study has helped them better understand how computer techniques can be used to understand and predict conflict.