Small Wars Journal

COIN Seminar: Dr. David Kilcullen

'Day job hat' on here. I, along with Capt Josh Cusworth of the Small Wars Center of Excellence, had the privilege of organizing a Counterinsurgency (COIN) seminar featuring Dr. David Kilcullen on 26 September at Marine Corps Base, Quantico, Virginia.

Dr. Kilcullen spoke to a standing room only crowd at the Gray Research Center and provided an excellent and very informative brief (1 ½ hour) followed by a Q&A period that could have lasted well beyond the allotted 45 minutes.

The purpose and scope of the COIN seminar was to share some basic observations on COIN theory and practice derived primarily from Dr. Kilcullen's service in Iraq (2006 and 2007), Afghanistan (2006), and pre 9/11 campaigns in SE Asia and the Pacific. Additionally, the forum served as a conduit to open a discussion on issues relevant to seminar attendees.

Dr. Kilcullen opened with a caveat -- everyone sees Iraq differently, depending on when they served there, what they did and where they worked. Because the environment is highly complex, ambiguous and fluid; observations from one time / place may or may not be applicable elsewhere -- even in the same campaign in the same year. He enjoined the audience to first understand the essentials of the environment, then determine whether analogous situations exist, before attempting to apply "lessons". Dr. Kilcullen's role in Iraq (hence his bias) was as Senior COIN Advisor to General David Petraeus (Commanding General, Multi-National Force -- Iraq [M-NF -- I]). He spent approximately 65 percent of his time in the field and the remainder at M-NF -- I Headquarters and the US Embassy in Baghdad.

The Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory's Wargaming Division has posted Dr. Kilcullen's briefing slides here. The SWJ has posted a 'backup' copy of the brief here.

I'm in the process of writing a detailed summary report of the seminar and hope to see it posted to the Wargaming page in the near future. The presentation, as well as the Q&A were videotaped and will be made available; along with the briefing slides, the summary report, a 45 minute video interview with Dr. Kilcullen, and several of his articles and SWJ Blog postings; on DVD. I'll post a heads-up as the production date nears.


Marzouq (not verified)

Wed, 10/17/2007 - 12:02pm

Read transcript of Kilcullen and Rose. Slide show very interesting along with Fabius's commentary.

It has been a very interesting journey ever since I met Lind, Maximus and D-N-I.

May Allah The Most High, The One God bless your efforts.

Salaam eleikum!

Fabius Maximus

Tue, 10/09/2007 - 1:41am

The video is now online showign the interview of Kilcullen on the Charlie Rose show. It's worth watching!


Wed, 10/03/2007 - 4:24am

I found the slides very interesting. Some of which comes from "Broken Windows Theory" (model communities as the "carrot" to other communities for cooperation) and a few items did make me re-think the "communications strategy"; specifically about developing credible local speakers who can speak to a bigger audience. Great point and something I look forward to discussing in terms of post Iraq continuing conflict and national strategic communications in the global market place.

There is only one thing that struck me as soon as I went to the original link with the presentation and I have no idea who to address it to. Kind of reminds me of the discussion about "Dipnote" as a blog name for state.

Joint Urban Warrior - JUW

Seriously, who decided that "jew" was a good acronym for a counterinsurgency effort that is currently within a paranoid, Islamic culture?

On the internet no less?

Not to be off topic. I did appreciate Kilcullen's ppt. It was very self explanatory.


Tue, 10/02/2007 - 6:56pm


Your comments are appreciated, but perplexing. Quick question - did you actually read the slides - or just decide to pop off a drive-by?

We welcome all views here - but take exception to those who have a preconceived bias, do not source or even take the trouble to point out what particular item (s) in one of our postings they take exception with and why. Again, generalization based on personal bias does not cut it here - right or left of the political spectrum.

Please see Robs post above as an example of how to coherently express ones views on a particular issue. If ones convictions are that strong about an issue critical to national security, then one should take the time to present a well thought out and comprehensive argument - one way or another. Thanks in advance, Im sure you understand.

Dave Dilegge

P.S. - I am assuming the "Rave" Petraeus reference was a typo as the R is just "northeast" and one row up on any keyboard from the D.

Rob Thornton

Tue, 10/02/2007 - 6:21pm

As somebody who went to the seminar - I can say it was well worth it. What I heard pitched matched pretty well with what I saw 2006/2007 from my AOR - but left room for what I heard from buddies in other parts of Iraq and a few operating in Afganistan.

What was most valuable to me was the presentation of different ways to think about insurgency and counter-insurgency. The slide about war and counter-war tied in several others and made me think about operational concepts with different Logical Lines of Operations to counter the insurgency's objectives without disregard for the fact that its still violent and still war.

He (DR Kilcullen) also provided the context for often cited (but less understood) COIN axioms and historical references - ex. the bit about "hearts and minds" being a representation of the need to appeal to local perceptions on the emotive and cognitive levels to get them to accept control vs. "being nice to people". Not only did I find this true based on experience because "nice" doesn't provide security, employ people, heat their homes, or provide governance - but I also found it something that can be operationalized and explained to highers and lowers in the "so what and so why" categories - this last bit is important if you want unity of effort.

There were a good number of SNCOs and NCOs in the audience - and they asked some good questions. These guys are every inch the professional the officers there were. You could tell they were placing their own experiences in the context of the discussion and weighing the info for its value. These guys may know it instictively - but it always helps to think of it in a few different ways to get more mileage out of it. They are certainly capable of taking the ideas found in any doctrinal manual and applying or modifying what works, and stashing the rest for the next mission.

I've already sent the slides out to a number of SNCOs and officers - some have already replied back. The general comment is that it made them think - a few have expressed appreciation that the presentation is largely stand alone and can be used to pitch to their own soldiers.

I appreciate that SWJ has made the slides available and the DR kilcullen took the time to put them together and pitch them. Insurgency is not going away as a strategy and I expect we will see more of it and its variations in the future - anything that gets us thinking and discussing the nature of it (past and present) and how to prevent or win it (present and future) is worth while.

Best regards, Rob

arifJAA (not verified)

Mon, 10/01/2007 - 7:48pm

Glad to see the issue of religion is being raised on some threads. It seems outside the military blogger sphere (certainly our elected leadership) seems to want to take a purely agnostic approach to the problem, ignoring the main enemy's main motivation (submit to Islam).

While of course Rave Petreaus's COIN manual self-declares to be generic prescriptions, I have the following questions for the military's leadership:

*We face an enemy that unlike previous insurgencies has unlimited money and guns, supported by a rich, global diaspora, how should our approach differ?

*What is the difference in fighting a regional or local insurgency from the global one we face?

*Fighting communists or nationalists is not the same as fighting someone with a divine mandate, where is the change in tactics? To wit...can we recognize that while they might flip to our side for awhile they will NEVER truly stop fighting?

Finally a comment...the COIN manual wasn't written for the soldiers (the ones on the street know all this by instinct even if they can't articulate it...or won't condescend to) but for the Officer Corps, and their phalnax of Corporate Lawyers (JAG).