Local Wars

Local Wars - Janine di Giovanni, New York Times Book Review

The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One by Dr. David Kilcullen

David Kilcullen is a former officer in the Australian Army, a strategist and a scholar. He is also an expert on counterinsurgency, or how to combat a rebellion, and one of the few brave souls who had the ear of people in the Bush White House and advised against the invasion of Iraq...

In "The Accidental Guerrilla," Kilcullen draws on his vast experience not only as a dedicated field researcher, but also as a soldier — he commanded an infantry company in counterinsurgency operations in East Timor in 1999. The most extensive sections of his book concentrate, naturally, on Iraq and Afghanistan (which he still sees as "winnable" with a long-term commitment), but his analysis leads him as well to smaller movements in such places as Chechnya, Thailand, Indonesia and the Horn of Africa...

Kilcullen skillfully interprets the future of counterinsurgency, the proper use of military force and what we must learn from our losses and mistakes...

The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One by Dr. David Kilcullen

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Agree and enjoyed all comments, but Ken is right. Seals like to be wet...and, we do our best when it is under the radar, "quiet professional" if you will. This understanding does not have to be constrained to SOF. I simply think it's better when the military end of our foreign policy is low-key- for all parties involved.

Then again, I'm just a tanker that bumped his head a bunch of times jumping outta airplanes, but I do so enjoy lamb and chai. :)

v/r

Major Few

With reflection, you're correct. I interpreted the "...'through, by and with' operations as well." as being DA, which most are but, in fairness, as the host nation folks are doing the work and the ODs are there to advise and assist, I'll agree I overstated my objection.

I still think the SEALs, good job though they are no doubt doing, could be doing as good a job in other climes near an Ocean...

But then, I'm an old grouch and have a hang up on people doing what they do best. Not to mention more than a hang up with those few on high who insist on having a piece of whatever action is hot at the time even if it isn't their forté. That causes the experts in Field 'X' to be working in Field 'Y' which in turn causes people not skilled in 'X' to have to do that task, usually less satisfactorily. Sometimes dangerously so. For everyone involved...

In regard to this specific passage...
Kilcullen:"...even in Special Operations Forces the primary focus is on direct action (killing or capturing key enemy personnel) rather than on capabilities that support an indirect military assistance approach."

I think that Max161 is only narrowly disagreeing. Regarding that narrow disagreement, I have to side with Max. He stated, "But the majority of the SOF operations in the named operations just mentioned are also indirect, 'through, by and with' operations as well."
I think that is correct. There is a whole lot of SF direct action, but most of those killing and capturing missions (almost entirely capturing) are conducted as joint SF/IA or SF/IP operations. So they are simultaneously killing and capturing, while also training and mentoring. This has the effect of doing what Kilcullen asserts we are not focusing enough on: "capabilities that support an indirect military assistance approach." The intel collection, imo, is even more sharply slanted toward the indigenous partners and also has the positive effect that Kilcullen asserts we need more of.

Kilcullen's impression may have more to do with the time period that he was in Iraq and what locations he focused on. My understanding is that unilateral ops by SF were more common prior to 2007 and that, even in 2007 and beyond, SEALs tended more towards frequent unilateral ops. The change by SF was largely due to the concerns that Kilcullen stated and had the effect that Max points out. So everybody wins! (Except the bad guys.)

Max 161 writes that Dr. Kilcullen is mistaken in the statement that:

"...while even in Special Operations Forces the primary focus is on direct action (killing or capturing key enemy personnel) rather than on capabilities that support an indirect military assistance approach."

On a global basis that is certainly a correct assessment. With respect to Afghanistan and Iraq, however, it would seem to be questionable. I know several SF soldiers who have multiple tours in both nations and all their tours (other than one first trip to Afghanistan) have been primarily DA oriented. That includes one on a current tour. Based on that knowledge and the reports of others I know who are not SOF but have served both places it would seem the Doctor might have had a point. I won't even address SEALS being far from the Sea...

That said, I agree with Max 161's premise that we cannot take an either or approach and that there is indeed "...hard work ahead of us is getting the right balance of capabilities, particularly those that support both major combat operations and irregular warfare."

However, with respect to "hybrid" threats, I suggest the real threat to us in that is really our arrogance. That and our inflexibility...

I have read this book and recommend it; however, I have to call attention to the fact that Dr. Kilcullen continues to perpetuate the same old myth about Special Operations.

I agree with his basic premise from the excerpt below but he is mistaken about Special Operations Forces:

Page 26-27.
"Even within the armed forces, there is substantial mismatch between the capabilities needed for the current international security environment and those actually present in the U.S. military inventory. This is starkest in terms of the lack of capacity for stabilization and reconstruction operations and for counterinsurgency or FID. The vast majority of defense capability is oriented to conventional war-fighting, while even in Special Operations Forces the primary focus is on direct action (killing or capturing key enemy personnel) rather than on capabilities that support an indirect military assistance approach."

This is an incorrect characterization of SOF and only illustrates a part of SOF (e.g., high end direct action forces such as Rangers) and does not take into account the huge role that Special Forces (and to a certain extent SEALs [as in western Iraq] and Marine Special Operations Teams (as in RC West in Afghanistan]), Civil Affairs, and Psychological Operations forces contribute on the indirect side. And of course the 115 missions (other than and in addition to OIF, OEF, OEF-TS, OEF-CCA, OEF-P, JTF HOA, and Plan Columbia) conducted by Army SOF in FY 08 are clear examples SOF support to indirect operations for the Geogrraphic Combatant Commanders around the world. But the majority of the SOF operations in the named operations just mentioned are also indirect, "through, by and with" operations as well.

But I would also caution that there are so many conventional warfighting capabilities (and enablers) that are necessary for major combat operations and counterinsurgency that we cannot focus completely on one or the other. We cannot take an either or approach. And this is even more important when we look at "hybrid" threats or "hybrid" war. One of the problems is that those capabilities that are so important to stabilization and COIN efforts are the enablers and they have often been resourced as "below the line" forces since they fell into the category of combat service support (now doctrinally in the Army, sustainment). The hard work ahead of us is getting the right balance of capabilities, particularly those that support both major combat operations and irregular warfare.

Also on 298-299 he has an interesting discussion on comparisons between the OSS and SOF today. Again, I agree with the basic idea he is putting forth but he mis-characterizes todays SOF as well. But I will save that for a future discussion.