In order to form a rational opinion on the West's involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan it is necessary to have at least a basic idea of what counterinsurgency operations are all about. Without an understanding of the type of operations being conducted and their aims, it is not possible to make a considered determination of whether we are winning or losing, or whether we should get out or stay in for the long haul. Therefore a primer on counterinsurgency written by one of the world leading authorities (both practical and academic) is sorely needed as the West reconsiders its options. Kilcullen's "Counterinsurgency" hits the mark accurately and with power, but it is not without fault.
For those trying to come to grips with all the talk and debate over the progress in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is easily to become swayed by the reports in the media. Without understanding how to measure success in an insurgency and what is trying to be achieved, the general public and the media continue to view progress through the lens of conventional military operations. Killcullen's book provides the background necessary to understand what the West should try to do, why they should try to do it, how to do it, and (very importantly) how to know what you are doing is having the desired effect. This sort of information presented in language that is easy to read and understand has been sorely missing to date, and Kilcullen has done an excellent job of providing an entry level book on counterinsurgency for the layman.
As a primer the book is excellent as it draws together a diverse range of Kilcullen's work on counterinsurgency, from his work in Indonesia and East Timor, to the famous "Twenty-Eight Articles". It is therefore a one-stop shop to get your head around the big issues. However, as Kilcullen has included the articles in their original state, the book offers very little for those who are familiar with Kilcullen's work. This is unfortunate and represents a missed opportunity. Instead of updating the texts, Kilcullen has added a number of "author's notes" to highlight changes in his thinking or in the situation after the article was written. I am hard pressed to understand why the author didn't re-edit and update the articles themselves. This would have added significant value to the work rather than letting the reader know that what they have just read is no longer completely accurate. This is very disappointing.
Despite having articles that are now out-dated, the diversity of the writings that have been included provide a variety of perspectives on the issues involved in counterinsurgency. The book is more than simply a look at Iraq and Afghanistan, it contains insights into the challenges of combating a global insurgency as well as examining counterinsurgency operations conducted by the Indonesians soon after gaining independence. One article that I thought was an interesting inclusion was Kilcullen's report on the Mootain Bridge engagement following the UN intervention in East Timor. This was not so much an insight into insurgencies perse, but rather an example of the power of the media and the need for the troops to think strategically. This is something that is vital in current counterinsurgency operations.
An excellent primer on counterinsurgency for those trying to understand it, but offers little to the seasoned campaigner.
I would recommend this book to:
(2) New military recruits
(4) The general public who wish to make an informed judgment of current operations.
David Kilcullen is the author of the highly acclaimed book `The Accidental Guerrilla'. Kilcullen was involved with the George W Bush administration as a senior counterinsurgency adviser to General Petraeus in Iraq in 2007 as part of `the Surge' which is now recognized as a military success. Dr David Kilcullen is a former Australian Army Officer, founding president and CEO of Caerus Associates LLC which specializes in solutions to the world's hardest problems.
Kilcullen has written `Counterinsurgency' with the emphasis on understanding how counterinsurgency works in today's conflict environment. He examines the history of counterinsurgency which looks at T.E. Lawrence's (Lawrence of Arabia) insurgency work with the Arabs against the Turks and explores warfare strategies used by the Romans and Adolph Hitler, through to present day Iraq/Afghanistan. Kilcullen draws on his own experience from his time spent as a soldier and as a senior advisor in East Timor, Indonesia, Iraq and Afghanistan.
The writing of the new U.S. Army and Marine Corps counterinsurgency manual in 2006 was a joint initiative between the U.S. Army and Marines. This was the beginning of rapid change in how American troops fought counterinsurgency. `This was the first U.S. military manual with an annotated bibliography. It was downloaded more than six hundred thousand times within twenty-four hours of appearing on the internet'. Kilcullen was working at the Counterterrorist Office at the State Department when approached to work on the new `Small-Unit Operations guide', a companion to the new manual. It was designed to give Junior Non Commissioned Officers (JNCO's) tactics, techniques and procedures for counterinsurgency. The new counterinsurgency manual told them what to achieve, but not what to do. What was needed was practical advice for the JNCO'S and young Platoon Commanders (Pl Comd) on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Iraq and Afghanistan were different wars to the ones previously fought by the U.S. and Coalition Forces which were more focused on conventional force-on-force warfare. The dramatic changes that were happening with the major escalation of violence in Iraq and intensifying insurgency of the Taliban in Afghanistan fast tracked Kilcullen's decision to send the draft of his `Twenty-Eight main points' to his peer group for review. As Kilcullen remarks in the book `the document had gone "viral" around the U.S. Government, the U.S. Military and Allied Forces'. To Kilcullen's credit, he acknowledges the people who contributed directly or indirectly to his `Twenty-Eight main points' who reviewed his draft edition.
The `Twenty-Eight Articles' is a concise practical guide that would be easily understood by soldiers, JNCO's, non commissioned officers and junior Pl Comd. I like the use of the headings for the `Twenty-Eight Articles' (Know your turf, Travel light and harden your Combat Service Support, Rank is nothing: talent is everything) and the easily understood description of each of these topics. I look at these `Twenty-Eight Articles' and wished that they were available to me before my deployment to Iraq in 2004. It now makes perfect sense to me after reading this book.
Kilcullen reflects on the part he played at Motaain Bridge in East Timor, which is now part of Australian military history. He was the Officer Commanding (OC) Support Company, Second Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (2 RAR). I found this part of the book interesting as Kilcullen describes all the variables that can and does happen in a combat zone. How one soldier reflects on what happened during the firefight and how another soldier has a totally different aspect of the same firefight that each was involved in. His reflection and account of what happened at Motaain Bridge is a must read for any young Australian soldier, Section Commander, Platoon Sergeant or Platoon Commander to further assist them in their future military careers writing post operation reports.
Kilcullen is a world expert in counterinsurgency and modern warfare. Kilcullen's expertise and experience comes from personal experience in East Timor, Indonesia, Iraq and Afghanistan. He goes into great detail in understanding how counterinsurgency works on the modern battlefield. He goes a long way in making sense of, how to combat counterinsurgency. Kilcullen just doesn't tell the reader what is wrong with Iraq or Afghanistan, he offers some solutions to the problems faced by Coalition Forces starting at the lowest ranking soldier to the highest ranking General.
Kilcullen states in his book `This book is intended for counterinsurgents-civilian and military students and practitioners of counterinsurgency-and for the general reader interested in understanding today's conflict environment'. He has shown that this book is not just for military personnel with a background in international politics, but has the ability to cross over to a wider audience of readers and highly recommend reading `Counterinsurgency'.
Dr David Kilcullen's next book is `Out of the Mountains' (forthcoming 2011)
Insurgency is the most widespread form of warfare today, and throughout history. 'Counterinsurgency' is an umbrella term that describes the range of measures used to defeat insurgencies, and include political, administrative, military, economic, psychological, or informational means, and are almost always used in combination. The environment is constantly in flux - insurgents and terrorists evolve rapidly in response to countermeasures. This makes organizational learning and adaptation critical success factors.
Two fundamentals apply throughout: 1)Understand in detail what drives the conflict in any given area or population group. This requires reliable local allies to design, in concert with them, locally tailored measures to target the drivers that sustain the conflict. 2)Act with respect for local people, putting their well-being ahead of any other issue, especially killing the enemy. They must feel safe, with more to gain by talking than fighting. Success also requires discriminating between irreconcilables and irreconcilables, and avoiding making more insurgents in the process.
Insurgent armies are very difficult to pin down because of their lack of reliance on fixed positions - attempting to attack them directly risks dissipating efforts and alienating the population.
The challenge of understanding someone else's country, security it, and building viable allies is much greater in a foreign nation than in one's own turf. Logistics issues further add to the problem.
Establishing a presence is key - this demands a residential approach in close proximity to the population. Driving around in an armored convoy makes you a target and degrades situational awareness. Avoid knee-jerk responses to first impressions - it helps to have an older hand around, or to send some individuals ahead for early learning from the unit to be replaced. Create handover folders for your successors, starting Day One. Focus on fixing grievances that are causing violence, are being exploited, and that you can do something about. About 1/3 - 2/3 of one's forced should be on patrol at any time - preferably spread out and unpredictable. Be leery of children - they create accidents and crowds the enemy can exploit. Create metrics - eg. the number of tips, village leader longevity, etc. Suggested examples include first-to-fire ratio (indicates which side possesses the tactical initiative), ratio of surrendering insurgents to those killed/captured (a larger # may indicate a drop in that group's morale), possession of high ground at down (indicates mastery of mountain warfare), the price of transportation (strength of the enemy in the area). The proportion of ghost employees and the percentage of local officials buying their position are useful measures of fraud. Good metrics also help guide good actions.
The WOT is actually a campaign to counter a global Islamist insurgency. Classical counterinsurgency is designed to defeat insurgency in one country. This demands a strategy to prevent the dispersed elements from linking and functioning as a global system. The doctrine of 'takfir' violates the Quranic injunction against compulsion in religion and holds that Muslims whose beliefs differ from theirs must be killed. Al Qaeda is takfiri, and that general ideology is threatening the Islamic world. This latter section's relationship to the initial material on Afghanistan was not clear.
Excellent Reading for Those Already Familiar with COIN
Following the success and praise of his previous book, The Accidental Guerilla, David Kilcullen has released a compilation of his previously published articles on counterinsurgency that have impacted and evolved the theoretical understanding of the field. From the "Twenty-eight Articles" that initially went viral to a summary of his doctoral dissertation, Kilcullen's analysis can now be located in one book. Kilcullen, one of the leading counterinsurgency analysts, provides a wealth of information for COIN practitioners that stems from extensive hands-on experience.
In Kilcullen's last essay, he focuses on viable strategies to defeat the current global Islamist insurgency that makes up the War on Terror. However, he neglects to examine whether or not it's even possible to mobilize a global Muslim populace in a global insurgency. He readily admits the cultural differences that exist within and between insurgencies that can decrease operational capabilities but does not apply this same concept to the Islamist societies. Indeed, nationalism within Afghanistan and Pakistan, for example, has not been readily adopted, facing fierce resistance towards efforts to consolidate state institutions and identities. If states are having such difficulties in unifying a populace, a global jihadist movement is unlikely to fair much better at a larger scale. The emergence of a Muslim caliphate that is directly opposed to the West is no small undertaking and requires a substantial degree of analysis and evidence before national security policy can developed in anticipation of it. While Kilcullen offers a highly intelligent strategy to combat radical Islamist terrorism through "disaggregation," his implicit assumption that this insurgency possesses legitimate challenges to the West may be overstated.
While Kilcullen's emphasis on a population-centric approach to COIN, the importance alleviating suffering for the populace may be overstated. Some scholars have claimed that civilian control methods that also force civilians to endure hardship can be effective in an insurgency. Kilcullen represents one of the more prominent experts that recommend alleviating as much suffering as possible for the populace and the reader should be aware of critiques of that perspective. For a recent debate between the two perspectives, John A. Nagl and Gian P. Gentile each wrote two articles debating the topic in Joint Force Quarterly 58.
The Bottom Line:
This is not the best book for those new to the study of counterinsurgency. Kilcullen's book will aid those with a foundation in classical counterinsurgency theory as well as a general knowledge of the U.S. operations in Afghanistan and Iraq more so than the general audience. For practitioners and scholars of COIN, this book is essential if the reader is unfamiliar with Kilcullen's writings. For the general audience or those that already follow the work of Kilcullen, there are likely more pressing books to give priority to.
For more reviews and a summary of Kilcullen's main points, find us at Hand of Reason.
Within COIN and 21st Century conflict circles Kilcullen is a rock star. This book updates some of his best work including the 28 articles that has laid the foundation for military operations in the current conflict environment. This book adds to the library for anyone interested in the current conflict environment and the future of warfare. I am looking forward to future works by Kilcullen on this subject.
David Kilcullen is one of the world's most influential experts on counterinsurgency and modern warfare. A Senior Counterinsurgency Advisor to General David Petraeus in Iraq, his vision of war powerfully influenced America's decision to rethink its military strategy in Iraq and implement "the Surge," now recognized as a dramatic success. In Counterinsurgency, Kilcullen brings together his most salient writings on this key topic. At the heart of the book is his legendary "Twenty-Eight Articles." In it, he shows company leaders how to practice counterinsurgency in the real world, "at night, with the GPS down, the media criticizing you, the locals complaining in a language you don't understand, and an unseen enemy killing your people by ones and twos." Reading this piece is like reading a modern-day Sun Tzu--an essential read for officers in the field, and not infrequently an excellent source of wisdom for readers of all stripes, military or civilian. In such pithy adages as "Rank is nothing: talent is everything" or "Train the squad leaders--then trust them," Kilcullen offers advice that any leader would be wise to consider. The other pieces in the book include Kilcullen's pioneering study of counterinsurgency in Indonesia, his ten-point plan for "the Surge" in Iraq, and his frank look at the problems in Afghanistan. He concludes with a new strategic approach to the War on Terrorism, arguing that counterinsurgency rather than traditional counterterrorism may offer the best approach to defeating global jihad. Counterinsurgency is a picture of modern warfare by someone who has had his boots on the ground in some of today's worst trouble spots--including Iraq and Afghanistan--and who has been studying the topic since 1995. Filled with down-to-earth, common-sense insights, this book is indispensable for all those interested in making sense of our world in an age of terror. Praise for The Accidental Guerrilla "For a wider perspective on the lessons drawn over the past seven years of the 'war on terror', the reader can do no better than turn to Mr. Kilcullen's excellent book." --The Economist "Should be required reading foranyone involved in the war on terror. Kilcullen's central concept of the 'accidental guerrilla' is brilliant and the policy prescriptions that flow from it important." --Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek "Kilcullen's ideas...are likely to shape U.S. policy in Iraq and Afghanistan for the immediate future." --Laura Miller, Salon.com "The Accidental Guerrilla is a master class in counterinsurgency from a man who, as much as anyone, is responsible for recent successes in Iraq." --The Boston Globe "Kilcullen's influence on how the U.S. military thought about counterinsurgency campaigning cannot be overstated." --Tom Ricks, author of The Gamble and Fiasco "There are some standard texts on [counterinsurgency]. The Accidental Guerrilla is sure to become one." --The Wall Street Journal "This book is essential.... Kilcullen skillfully interprets the future of counterinsurgency, the proper use of military force and what we must learn from our losses and mistakes. After reading The Accidental Guerrilla, one is left to wonder why the Pentagon did not listen to his sage advice back in 2003." --New York Times Book Review