Stewart Scott

Early Oct. 20, a small sedan apparently filled with cartel gunmen rapidly pulled in front of a military vehicle, drawing the military patrol into a car chase in downtown Monterrey, Mexico. After a brief pursuit, the vehicle carrying the cartel gunmen turned at an intersection. As the military vehicle slowed to negotiate the turn, an improvised explosive device (IED) concealed in a parked car at the intersection detonated. The incident appears to have been intended to lure the military patrol into a designated attack zone. While the ambush did not kill any soldiers, it did cause them to break off their chase.

Though this IED ambush is interesting in itself for a number of reasons, we would like to use it as a lens to explore a deeper topic, namely, how STRATFOR analyzes a tactical incident like this.

Why We Look at an Incident

Hundreds of violent incidents take place every day worldwide, from fuel depot explosions in Sirte, Libya, to shootings in southern Thailand to grenade attacks in Nairobi, Kenya — just a few of the things that happened on a single day this week. Indeed, a typical day sees dozens of incidents in Mexico alone, from shootings and beheadings to kidnappings and cargo theft. Unless one has a method to triage such incidents, they quickly can overwhelm an analyst, dragging him or her down into the weeds struggling to understand the tactical details of every one. This can result in information overload. The details of so many incidents simply overwhelm the analyst’s ability to understand them and place them in a context that allows them to be compared to, and perhaps linked with, other incidents.

STRATFOR’s methodology for placing items in context begins with our interrelated array of net assessments and forecasts. Net assessments are high-level overviews of the significant issues driving the current behavior of nations, regions and other significant international actors. Forecasts can be drawn from these baseline assessments to predict how these actors will behave, and how that behavior will impact regional dynamics. In this way, net assessments and forecasts provide a strategic framework of understanding that can be used to help create assessments and forecasts for tactical-level items.

Stewart Scott

Stewart Scott is a security analyst for Stratfor.