Meet An Urban Planner For Cities That Don't Yet Exist

"Let’s Map Who Owes The Local Warlord Money": Meet An Urban Planner For Cities That Don't Yet Exist by David Holmes, Fast Company.

After 25 years in the military, Dr. David Kilcullen needed a change. So he started Caerus Associates, which is "two-thirds tech, one-third social science, with a dash of special operations." Now he's helping solve land disputes in Monrovia, and creating crime maps in Lagos.

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Dave Dilegge,

Since you minimized my last comments as drive by one-liners and personal attacks b/c you did not comprehend what I was stating, I'll reply in full.

First, Dave Kilcullen is the CEO of Caerus Associates, a for profit strategy and design firm. Emphasis on for profit, hence the quip on beltway bandits that Dr. Kilcullen skirted.

Currently, Kilcullen runs a consulting firm that relies on government and non-government contracts to compete. As a for-profit industry, the mission is to make money and convince folks to give him money.

Second, Kilcullen states that he's "two-thirds tech, one-third social science, with a dash of special operations."

This is quants theory, unproven data gathering and analysis, based on the Keynesian Model. In the post-WWII and post-Cold War Model, the results have been mixed. Particularly when intermixed with external "consulting" or intervention.

For a footnote, the Army and Military conduct the same research in the OR TRAC programs and the social scientists of the CORE program.

Third, the secondary and tertiary results from any intervention are often much worse than expected.

Thus, it becomes a bridge to nowhere until that bridge is proven to lead somewhere.

I actually like Kilcullen. I was just disappointed that he was not truthful in his intent to make a lot of money while trying to change the world.

In the discouraging of analogies, his methodology is intervening in the Banana Wars to build roads and bridges that do not ultimately provide provide profits from the production and distribution of bananas to the sea.

No, it was not because I could not understand, it's because I look out for all who come here and read your commentary. And this is the last time I feel obligated to explain myself to you on my site. Got it Michael Few?

Could we say that Kilcullen is still working in the same general field that he was involved in previously, to wit: "tackling international development challenges?"


I see you write this same argument in forum after forum, as if there should be some kind of truth commission to haul all the academic proponents of counterinsurgency in front of where they can admit their past mistakes and depart from them forever.

But I believe you are missing the mark. We're 'stuck with the strategy' in Afghanistan because the President and nearly all of his closest, most influential advisers believed in it and recommended it to him, he chose to listen to them instead of the critics of the strategy (and there were critics) and he ultimately ordered the government to implement it. You give Exum, et al too much credit for President Obama's adoption of his strategy in Afghanistan; most people cannot even spell CNAS, even in the Pentagon.

Moreover, what the military and various agencies did/are doing on the ground vice what Exum, et al advocated ( at the tactical, operational, and policy level are vastly different than what was/is being implemented, in this author's humble opinion. We're on our third Ambassador, and what, the fourth ISAF commander now, not to mention the 7-8 times that other flag level headquarters and senior state/agency personnel rotated in once and out forever, so it might be a lengthy process to structure an argument here, save for the fact that continuity in Afghanistan for American government personnel is a challenge.

And why would Think Tanks and academics at this point NOT move on from COIN? The US is not 'stuck' in Afghanistan, it is 'winding down the war responsibly'. Why write about something that the current administration, and presumably its opponent, care little to nothing about, and there is no appetite for in Afghanistan and elsewhere? And how many books are you going to write about the folly of COIN before you move onto something different, like the History of MILES Gear or something? Hopefully no more than three or four.

I confess, I don't entirely understand this comment? Perhaps I am missing something?

How can an Army prepare itself for the future if it doesn't understand its past? But I am a civilian and frequently misunderstand things around here, so, perhaps, I am incorrect in thinking this.

I tend to focus on Afghanistan around here and I believe--okay, it's only a rough theory and a hunch--that the improper understanding of American history in the larger South Asian region post 1947 has led to a set of incorrect assumptions by policy makers of many administrations, including both the Bush and Obama administrations -- and also in the military and other DC bureaucracies.

Add to this the theory that counterinsurgency can only have one center of gravity, and that the population, led us to today....

The place to start, I believe, is the enormous push by the UN (and led by the United States) in the fifties--after Indian and Pakistani independence-- to "solve" Kashmir. From there, in focusing on the Soviet Union and the Anglo-American alliance as the basis for which to understand the region while subtracting the role of various Western powers as a party to SA regional dynamics, a step by step creation of a particular narrative history occurred in our various institutions. Again, only a theory, but not one without merit, I believe. When I get a chance, I will link some of the scholars pursuing such themes.

Every canard repeated endlessly by every "expert", civilian or military, has its roots in this narrative creation, IMO.

How these ideas established themselves is not unimportant. I'd love to see proper academic study on the lot. The US should have had a second 9-11 commission after OBL's death, but there was no political will among the larger public. It seems I am only one among, oh, say, tens of people in the larger American public that wished for such a thing, sadly....

So, then, it must be left to the academics to explore certain key questions. Scholars are entitled to be interested in anything they please as long as the scholarship is valid.

It is my hope that such study will guide us in the future, because if we have so misjudged things in the recent past, perhaps we should reexamine our current assumptions regarding Asia "in full"--China, etc.

An addition to my comment above, for discussion:

1. How does one "discover" a center of gravity in an insurgency? Does one need to discover it?

Echevarria argues that Clausewitz sees CoG neither as a weakness nor a strength, but a focal point at which force may be employed to force the enemy to become unbalanced and topple. Much like the martial art of Jiu jitsu, the goal is to find the point of maximum leverage against the enemy and exploit it to upend the enemy.

2. Whatever it is that we ARE actually doing on the ground as opposed to what our theorists say we are doing, how did our traditional Western/Cold War understanding of the region lead to planning?

Given my ethnic background, my understanding is completely different than the typical American and European status quo thinking. My understanding is that people in that part of the world will do what they want--and always have. Agency, and all that. We've (meaning US, European countries, etc) tried numerous times in numerous ways to "solve" regional disputes. It's rarely worked out as we have planned. Our attempts at leverage almost always fail outside the most urgent and punitive measures. And, even then, it doesn't change essential thinking, only short term tactics toward a larger desired goal which doesn't change. Others have their own ideas about the world.


The chapter on foreign policy is arguably the book’s most interesting, and Boesche depicts Kautilya as a hard-nosed realist for whom war is not an extension of diplomacy (as Clausewitz argued), but who regards every part of diplomacy as part of ‘subtle war’. Diplomacy therefore does not seek to avoid war, but rather to assure that one is successful in warfare which occurs frequently.

Others are simply better at this "Kautilya-ism" than we are, I believe....At any rate, for discussion.


I'll leave alone your tiff with Gian, but I will offer a contender for a COG in Afghanistan to fit Echevarria's interpretation of CvC's thinking on this topic: The Constitution of Afghanistan.

The revolution never really got started until the current constitution codified the Northern Alliance monopoly on Afghan governance, and consolidated unprecedented (and therefore unnatural) powers in the President. This Constitution also effectively converted traditional Afghan patronage into a centralized Ponzi scheme of corruption on a level to make a warlord blush.

As we began to build our "COIN" efforts to counter the revolution, our very presence and actions began to fuel a parallel resistance (recognizing that there are not distinctive T-shirts for if one is primarily motivated by revolutionary or resistance motivations, so pretty hard to distinguish these essential purposes for action when simply judging by the nature of one’s actions).

To resolve the resistance we simply must stop providing a presence and approach that provokes that reasonable response. To resolve the revolution it is incumbent upon GIRoA to end their commitment to monopoly and actually open economic and governance opportunity to all. This requires some degree of reconciliation (of the issues driving the revolution, not of the individuals running the revolution) which is frankly not in GIRoA's interest to accomplish. This is why there has been no headway on this most essential of tasks. The fact that all reconciliation efforts to date have demanded the revolutionaries to swear allegiance to the very document they are revolting against is an irony that we blissfully ignore.

Address the COG - Call for a true constitutional Loya Jirga IAW Afghan culture and law.

This then will open the door to resolving the revolution, which in turn will allow both sides to stop fueling the resistance. This is not rocket science, this is human science. We are simply trapped by bad theory, bad facts and bad doctrine. As Einstein observed, "If the facts don't fit the theory, change the facts." It is time for a little bit of both. Will that require the US to give up control of the political outcome in Afghanistan? Definitely. I think we will find that control is over rated in the emerging environment, and that it comes at a cost that we are increasingly unwilling to pay.



I don't have a "tiff" with Gian. I hope my comments didn't come across that way. I'm glad he challenges the status quo.

Regarding your comments, I don't disagree and never have. A power-sharing deal with all parties is best, I just don't think it's in our power to deliver such a thing. Regional meddling from various actors (NATO included) essentially leads to a situation where some groups won't feel the need to disarm because they think they can keep getting backing and don't have to enter into a power sharing agreement.

But that would clearly be the best for everyone involved.

I don't know the answers. Anyway, I always read what you write very carefully, whether I agree or don't. I agree on our need to control leading to problems. Thanks.

Madhu, my bad, it is Bob W who is in the tiff.

As to "regional meddling"...I think we crossed that bridge 11 years ago. We shifted the balance of power and have enabled the current situation. To recognize our mistakes and conduct a little "counter-meddling" to break the monopoly and facilitate a somewhat controlled redistribution of power is far better than taking the position at this point of "not meddling" in Afghan affairs. That ship sailed.

We must meddle to force the political compromise now, or otherwise it will roar into Afghanistan like a hurricane of violence upon the heels of our currently planned departure.

I don't think we have learned much strategically in the past 11 years, mostly because we remain doggedly convinced we are strategically and morally right. Thus we simply debate tactics instead and call them "strategy" in documents like the recently published Decade of War. We'll credit or blame the tactics (as we did in Iraq) for how Afghanistan goes, and likely show up at the next one as unevolved and unrepentent from these experiences as we did for this round from our experiences in 'Nam.

Rob W:

Right, i will write about the history of MILES gear as my next project and ask the question how many americans die each month because of its use, unlike the unimportant issue as you suggest of Afghanistan where we spend billions of dollars each month and Americans die regularly there too. Your assertion of "winding down the war responsibly" (by the way, why in your post did you set it off in quotes?) sounds eerily similar to Hentry Kissinger's "descent interval." It took 20,000 American dead to get that for HK and RN; how many Americans will die in "winding down the war responsibly" in Afghanistan? The purpose of the American military, when necessary, is to fight and alas at times die. I get it. But strategy should give a coherent structure for that supreme moral effort. Cover your ears Rob because i am going to repeat myself: American strategy has been broken in Afghanistan from the start in 2002 because we have sought to achieve the singular core policy aim of the destruction of al Qaeda with a maximalist operational method of armed nation building. It has been like using a sledgehammer to drive a nail through a piece of soft pine wood when a carpenter's handle would do the trick.

As for the influence, or lack thereof, of Exum et al, well they were a part of McChrystal's strategy team and they did help to write the recommendation that McChrsytal sent forward in fall 2009 which with the help of General Petraeus and Secretary Gates essentially boxed the president in with only ONE strategy option in Afghanistan: long term American nation building. Woodward argues this very point in his book Obama's War, so does Rajiv Chandraskeran in his new book Little America. You make it sound like the US should get an A for its process of strategy development in Afghanistan in 2009, I say it should get an F, especially for the military advice that the Administration received. I mean heck you have folks like John Tien telling the President that he "cant go against his military chain of command" and their singular recommendation for Afghanistan.

As to your suggestion that i move on to other things, well Rob that shall happen soon enough as i am finishing up my book on Coin that will be published by the New Press and should be out by April 2013. Oh dont even bother to read it Rob, you won’t like what i have to say anyway. And to further settle your bile my next book that i plan on writing will be on the battle of Gettysburg with an analysis of the battle combined with an analysis of how the actual battle has been remembered and memorialized by Union regimental markers. You know me Rob, I have always thought highly of the “undergraduate level of war.”


If you dislike the rhetoric of “winding down the war responsibly”, then take it up with the President; it is his rhetoric, and one of many phrases he has used to describe this country's current actions in Afghanistan in recent speeches, on the rare occasion he mentions the war.

That is my essential argument against much of what you post; I've read all of the books and articles on your little reading list, and your hectoring of B-list academics who supported and wrote about COIN policy is, in my opinion, completely misplaced. You overstate their role in the decisionmaking process, and their importance overall. The President had access to all kinds of advice, including diplomatic, military, and outside advice that dissented from what his Secretary of Defense, State, and military commander recommended. His own Ambassador to Afghanistan famously dissented, albeit late in the game. The President and administration made decisions, and ultimately chose the path we are on now.

And I love the little Tien vignette, though I don't recall reading it. What a hoot! What was John Tien at the time of the strategic review, a flippin' Colonel? Jeez, if there is a single political appointee in the beltway cowering over what a single Army Colonel on a staff somewhere is saying, he should be fired immediately on principle.

The President conducted a strategic review with his cabinet and political advisors that lasted several months before he embarked on his new Afghanistan strategy, one that followed about four other strategic reviews by other individuals and organizations; he also made the decision to begin withdrawing troops last year. He also made/supported the decision to cycle through 3 (soon to be 4) generals to run the war in a short period of time after he changed the strategy, along with the requisite subordinate headquarters and staffs, and made implementing the strategy, complex under any circumstance, infinitely more complex.

But you take Dave Kilcullen to task because he wrote an article about something other than Afghanistan, and Exum, because he helped write a paper.

And I did not appreciate the bountiful helping of sanctimony about Soldiers dying and being wounded in Afghanistan, I am well aware of it. If you think chasing after think tank staffers or writing op-eds about college classroom procedures (and teaching) is not just catharsis, but is actually making a difference, good on you. In my opinion, if you truly wanted to influence the war, you'd probably do more by working somewhere where you could inform policy, or assist with the day to day running of the war. I find it hard to argue that these sort of endeavors would not be more productive than chasing after academics and chastising private universities for their class policies.

I'll read your book if they stock it in the local library, and it's good to see that you actually are moving on to a different project afterwards (Gettysburg), even though you chastised Exum and Kilcullen for doing the same. Cheers.

Cheers to you too,

Are you kidding me, you see it as no big deal that a leading academic institution like Yale allows a retired general officer to teach classes "off the record" thus violating its integrity on academic freedom as chump change?

And you are clueless about the facts surrounding Obama's strategic review toward Afghanistan. John Tien was a presidential aide and told Obama to his face, in person, in the oval office, read my lips, that he could not go against his generals, sorry man, i dont find that as trivial.

You and I are on different planets.

best to just let this be

Gian, I am almost ready to let it go and, as you wrote, move on.

SWJ editors, I read a caution below about keeping comments in this thread professional, and if I lapsed, my apologies to SWJ and all commenters, Gian included.

I take strong exception to what Gian has written here and elsewhere about two of his fellow academics, however, and several other things along the way, specifically:

"As uncomforatable [sic] as it is to you Dave there is an accountability issue here that Mike Few addresses. We have people like Exum and Kilcullen and others who were head over heels on board with the coin craze, and stridently recommended Surge version 2 in Afghanistan. Now they are off to some other endeavor while we are still mired and stuck with their mistaken strategy in Afghanistan."

In this excerpt above, Gian is not addressing the validity of Mr. Kilcullen's work as described in the attached article; on the contrary, he is engaging in what some readers could infer is an ad hominem attack. Kilcullen and Exum are both civilians, if they choose not to continue to write about Afghanistan, counterinsurgency, or any other topic, so be it, they are still free to do so the last I checked, and their new work should be judged on its merits.

COL Gentile, in much the same manner as the aforementioned individuals, made a deliberate and respectable decision to contribute to his nation and the Army by teaching at the United States Military Academy, and by writing about the wars, strategy, and policy. And by his own account his next book is going to be about the battle of Gettysburg, far off the topic of the war in Afghanistan and all of its heavy costs that he wrote about here; why call out two civilians for broadening their work when, as an active duty Army Officer, you are in the midst of the exact same thing? I personally believe there is much to be said for working in a place where you can directly inform policy (like the influence that Gian asserts COL Tien exerted), or assist in the direct, day to day management of the war in theater, but it's a free country, and we are all fortunate to have a great deal of options for how we contribute to the fight. If we are to respect COL Gentile's decision on the way he serves, why would we not respect the two civilians' choices?

Moreover, throughout our back-and-forth, Colonel Gentile continues to single out academics, and now a retired Colonel, as bearing a responsibility for the current Afghan strategy far beyond their authority or magnitude of influence within the decision making process.

In my previous thread comments here I noted that, upon taking office and before General McChrystal ever set foot in Afghanistan, there were at least three reviews of the Afghanistan policy that occurred that I'm aware of, including one directly commissioned by the President himself.

The administration formally reviewed and debated the policy for several months after the McChrystal assessment leaked, and DOD, State, and others continually provided input throughout the process. There were dissenters to General McChrystal's recommendations inside and outside of the government, the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan and the Vice President being two of the former according to many reports.

Argue about the process and the final product all you like, but the President helmed the strategic review, and took several months to make a deliberate decision; calling out proponents of the policy that the President decided upon, and suggesting that some sort of accountability on Exum's or Kilcullen's part is, in my opinion, wildly off mark. At least call for the civilian leaders and military personnel who are entrusted with the responsibility and authority to make these decisions first.

And I stand my the Tien thing. He was an NSC Staffer. If a President, Vice President or any political appointee else gets told by a Colonel on the NSC staff that he "cannot buck the chain of command", and that person changes his decision/national policy on that, then I believe you should be excoriating the former individual, not the latter. At least call your National Security Advisor, Chairman, Vice Chairman, Vice President or anybody for a second opinion.

I also challenged Col Gentile to address what has been implemented in Afghanistan as an outcome of the review and decision upon a strategy. Were the forces and resources provided as a result of the review employed to address the problems noted in the McChrystal assessment? Was implementing the recommendations of some of the so-called adherents of COIN made considerably more complex by the decision (or non-decision) to continually rotate key leaders and staffs, and bring many leaders and civilians into key positions who had never even been to Afghanistan? Probably worth looking at.

As for the Yale classroom integrity piece, I believe the whole unprecedented integrity lapse thing has been widely discussed by others more experienced with academia than I am. I'd suggest to any Yale students who plan to work in the government to take the course if you have the opportunity, and decide for yourselves whether or not you've been cheated. You were smart enough to get accepted there after all, and hey, it's your money.

I believe we come from the same world, Gian, we just view it differently.

If Woodward and Chandraskeran are right in both of their books--based on hundreds of interviews of key players--then in fact the President was boxed in my his senior military leaders in Afghanistan with the assistance of other parts of Defense. McChrystal's strategic review in Fall 2009--of which Exum, Kagan, Kilcullen, and others were an important part of in terms of advising and writing it, this is a fact, now you can say that they were essentially pawns in a bigger game, but i dont see it that way since they in effect wrote the darn strategic proposal that McChrystal sent to the President. McChrystal basically gave the President three options, and two of them were untenable, leaving only his preferred course which said give me the 40,000 troops i am asking for, and if you dont, by implication, we will likely fail and it will be your fault. Woodward and Chandraskeran essentially summarize the whole affair in this way too. Now sure you can say yes he was the President and he accepted his military's advice, and that is in fact true (and one could also make an argument that if the President really didnt like what he was being offered he could have cashiered his military leaders who were not giving him what he wanted, but he didnt, so be it). That still doesnt change the basic condition that his military boxed him in and didnt really give him options more in line with what he was looking for; Chandraskeran's new book makes this point pretty clearly by portraying the frustration that Vice President Biden felt with the whole affair.

I know something of issues surrounding academic and intellectual freedom (as does someone like Stephen Walt of Harvard University who wrote an article two weeks after mine came out agreeing with me, and saying that "Yale flunks academic freedom.") It isnt so much about the individual students taking McChrystal's course which i am sure they get a great deal out of, but Yale and how they have let a four star general with star power teach accredited classes at their school, thereby corrupting their academic and intellectual freedom, which for universities in the free world is the center of gravity.

We disagree on the influence of various people like Exum and Kilcullen, so be it, I was going to write more on this matter but perhaps since you have said your piece, and i have said mine, let's let it go.

thanks and best of luck to you


I have revised this somewhat from my initial entry:

As I have suggested in the past, it is critically important to view our work in Afghanistan not in terms of defeating AQ but, rather, in terms of transforming outlier states and societies so that these might come to cause the modern world fewer problems generally and come to offer the modern world, generally, greater utility and usefulness instead.

Thus, when looking at the operational method of armed nation building -- and the amount of blood and other treasure expended in these such endeavors -- one must do so from the standpoint of achieving the enormous goal of state and societal/regional transformation and not from the standpoint of achieving the much smaller objective of simply defeating AQ.

Accordingly, one must still ask the question: Is the use of a sledgehammer (COIN/armed nation-builiding - light); is this the appropriate approach and tool to use in attempting such huge tasks as (1) completely tearing down troublesome states and societies and (2) completely rebuilding these states and societies more in the style and fashion that the modern world requires?

Or do such huge tasks as these (opposed state and societal transformation) often require something much larger than a simple sledghammer; something more along the lines of entire demolition and re-construction teams -- with all the personnel, time, heavy equipment, commitment, etc., that such enormous tasks require?

Bottom Line: It was irrational for us to believe that we could -- with a simple sledgehammer (COIN/armed nation-building - light) -- completely tear down this state and society -- and completely rebuild it from the ground up. And this (complete and fundamental state and societal transformation), after all, was what this work in Afghanistan was actually all about -- not AQ.

While trying to find information about 1982's "Operation Peace for Galillee" based on the Hezbollah article, I found this past gem:

The urban warfare lessons of Lebanon (if not the overreaching occupation) stand in stark contrast with the Russian fiasco in Grozny and Chechnya.

Both, and operations in Iraq and Afghanistan show that whether or not we want to fight and stabilize adjacent to the population, it will occur. Military forces can either make a mess of it and level the city like Grozny, or they can show restraint. According to the link, at one point, over 4,000 artillery rounds per hour were raining down on Grozny, which kind of makes a mockery of the disruptive power of 1500 tactical ballistic and cruise missiles thwarting our access in the Pacific.

Will COIN and well-executed Stability Ops win hearts and minds? We certainly know from the Lebanon and Chechnya examples that failure to make some attempt at reaching the affected population will have deleterious effects. We also note successful COIN employment by Hezbollah to win acceptance in Lebanon.

To me, it's also mind-boggling that some can't appear to do the math when it comes to the surge and manning these wars. If you have countries the size of Texas, it's common sense that more troops and more dispersion of those troops controls a broader area. In the insurgency stage, many key areas the insurgent seeks to influence are populated. Do we ignore those towns and villages and instead waste resources searching uninhabited areas with complex terrain better understood by the insurgent? How did that work for us in Vietnam?

When we look at the efforts of well-intentioned but undercommitted allies like Canada and Great Britain, we often see that they simply lacked the manpower and other helicopter and armor assets to seize and hold areas like Kandahar, the Arghandab, Sangin, Kajaki Dam, and Basra. Replace those forces with better-resourced and manned U.S. forces, and effectiveness immediately increased.

Others seem to cling to counterfactuals that if we had simply left Iraq and Afghanistan after we broke it, that peace and prosperity would have been forthcoming on its own. The Taliban that fled to Pakistan would have remained there. Al Qaeda would have thrown up its hands saying, guess those U.S. bombs and ground power showed us and it's time to surrender. State department and USAID elements would have flocked into country and turned everything around, venturing into the countryside and urban areas without any protection.

Such speculation, along with believing that just special ops and airpower alone would have fixed Afghanistan, are contrary to common sense. If insurgents can return from cross-border sanctuaries to hug populations in an area the size of Texas, and 100,000+ ISAF forces can barely contain it, how could 10,000 SOF and airpower? It appears essential to employ military power to perform wide area security and at least limited "build" or "restore" of areas affected by war. Am I wrong?


With your strategic logic MF anytime in the future the US applies military force and "breaks" a regime or something similar then we are rule bound to stay and fix it with large amounts of ground forces. Staying and fixing should not be seen as an axiomatic rule that binds us an a-strategic, never ending wars of occupation--but a decision or choice made by strategy. Shoot it seems to me that with your logic, if we transported it back to 1993 we would still be in Somalia today.

And with regard to the Surge in Iraq and what i read as your premise that whatever place US troops went into they had a positive--violence lowering effect--you need to look at the hard data to see that that simply isnt true. I also offer the counterfactual--clearly with the luxury of hindsight--that if one takes into account the levels of death and destruction wrought on Iraq after 8.8 years of nation building warfare would it really have been any worse if we had left after we broke the regime? I am not saying it would have been happy land if we had done so and to be sure there would have been violence and an inevitable civil war, but would it have been any worse?

Lastly I ask you MF since you have been a strident and provocative proponent of American nation building Coin, what has happened to coin as an idea? Three years ago discussing it on this blog was all the rage, it was the thing to talk about in policy circles, so where did it go? What has happened to it?


With your strategic logic MF anytime in the future the US applies military force and "breaks" a regime or something similar then we are rule bound to stay and fix it with large amounts of ground forces.

The strategic logic is to employ a variant of the Powell Doctrine. Ensure the cause and end game are correct, and we have the support of Americans and the international commmunity. Then apply overwhelming force upfront to win, stabilize/restore/train, and then leave.

You can't do that with an inadequate initial force trying to win on the cheap. One could argue that with sufficient upfront forces, it simplifies planning to secure our supply lines through securing key terrain which includes affected populations and their infrastructure. Then train the host nation replacements so you don't spend a decade rotating inadequate force.

Shoot it seems to me that with your logic, if we transported it back to 1993 we would still be in Somalia today.

Since we are talking counterfactuals, perhaps if we had stuck around longer in Somalia, al Qaeda would have focused there instead of hard to reach AfPak. It would have been infinitely less costly in blood and treasure. I recall feeble attempts to take out training camps with cruise missiles and a claimed chemical site in Africa that turned out to be a pharmaceutical plant. Is that the alternative strategy we should return to?

And with regard to the Surge in Iraq and what i read as your premise that whatever place US troops went into they had a positive--violence lowering effect--you need to look at the hard data to see that that simply isnt true.

If you want to fight an insurgent, doesn't it make more sense to have them come to you on terrain of your choosing where you can simultaneously bloody him and secure the population he seeks to influence? Of course violence will increase temporarily as the top dog is established. The alternative is search and destroy that killed so many of our finest in Vietnam.

Three years ago discussing it on this blog was all the rage, it was the thing to talk about in policy circles, so where did it go?

I see a well written/argued article by a former Marine Lima company commander in the Garmsir District. His figure illustrates numerous COPs and wide area security. Whether the ANA and other security forces will be able to hold these Pashtun areas remains to be seen. Other allies in future conflicts no doubt would be better Soldiers then Afghans. What is clear, however, is the surge cleared and currently holds more territory important to the population than ever existed when Afghanistan was given resource short shrift.

Constructive alternatives are offered in his article to modify COIN precepts rather than reject them outright. Why give comfort to the enemy and discourage our own troops. It helps little to bash COIN without a viable alternative for the situations at hand. Blaming senior leadership is unhelpful as well, especially when you repeatedly offer no realistic alternatives to COIN.


thanks so much for your thoughtful response to my questions of you. Although i disagree with almost everything that you say, i still, like you believe debate and discussion are important, especially disagreement.

Bill M: I think leadership is important too in Coin. My disagreement though is with the Coin narrative that says savior generals became radical, game chaning events in and of themselves. For example Paula Broadwell writes of Petraeus when he came to command in Afghanistan that "there was a new force loosed in Kabul: Petraeus's will." Or Victor Davis Hanson says "the maverick savior general, David Petraeus." I am sorry, in wars of area security like Coin, relative to the way generals have been presented in the coin narrative, i just dont think that they matter nearly that much.



I understand your points, but I don't think we're restricted to two options (cruise missiles or send occupation forces). You made reference to the Powell Doctrine, which does call for sending a force large enough to be decisive, but decisive in pursuit of achievable military objectives, not trying to rebuild an alien society in our image.

Your point about staying Somalia I think is deeply flawed, but regardless it is conjecture. You offer two courses of action, one launch cruise missiles and two invade and stay. Unfortunately neither approach solves the problem does it? I think there are a lot of options other than these two that would ultimately produce less antibodies towards the U.S. in the long run. Launching cruise missiles was a cowardly tactic to avoid risking U.S. forces, yet SOF and CIA were always willing to take those risks even if their leaders prior to 9/11 weren't. Killing those who are trying to kill your country men will be tolerated even if the masses are not happy about it. Occupation forces will not be tolerated, and not unlike the Soviets we provided a lot of energy for the Jihadis to continue to their fight.

I think our older counterguerrilla doctrine and COIN doctrine provided adequate guidance for adaptive commanders at the tactical level. The new doctrine in my opinion confuses COIN with nation building. They are not the same thing, and this is where we have going terribly wrong. I think this may be one of Gian's points, doctrine can't drive strategy, nation building must be a conscious decision based on strategic objectives instead of default response due to doctrine.

You're right about the surge giving us ability to secure larger areas in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in the end what did that accomplish? We committed considerable energy to hold a system in place by force of arms, but as soon as we remove that holding action it defaults to violence despite how much we "build". Training host nation forces isn't rocket science, but somehow we have made it that way with our bureaucracy, this is one area we need to get the State Department out of. However, even assuming we once again regain the ability to train host nation forces, that doesn't mean they will have the will to fight. The world is not composed of U.S. surrogates, yet often our strategy assumes it is. If a foreign army occupied our nation and started training our citizens to provide their own security against those resisting foreign occupation forces you would have to wonder just how hard they would fight. We believe we're providing a better way of life, but that isn't our decision to make for them, and many of them apparently disagree with our intentions.

I am glad Gian is a voice against our dogmatic approach to COIN, even though I disagree with many of his points. For one, I think leadership is decisive and GEN Petreaus deserves credit for what he accomplished in Iraq, which probably was the most that could have been accomplished using the military. Second, surging forces into area can reduce violence, of course what follows when they leave is based on a number of factors, factors that often can't be mitigated with economic development (our current approach). We have to understand with build and hold will work and when it won't before we throw our treasure at this approach.

Great comments both here and above. Agree that there has been excessive emphasis on build, which led to graft and waste in both wars.

However, in Iraq failure to "build" would have meant no resumption of oil revenue essential for Iraq to function and the world to retain oil resources. In Afghanistan, we will be stuck footing the bill unless they Afghan population can manage some form of economy. We have a history of restoring nations we conquer dating back to WWII. All those past foes are now friends. It is not unprecedented or unwise to repair bad feelings to store long term relations.

Also, if we had done a better upfront job of securing infrastructure (and not bombing citing EBO to begin with), much of the build would not have been necessary.

My main beef as a peon (who should be more respectful to senior leaders with so much combat experience) is the repeated assertion that population-centric COIN is flawed even though it is an obvious extension of urban warfare. Otherwise, it is just like Vietnam where you take a hill and then give it right back to the enemy. If you take a city, at least hold onto it.

Forgive me if I appear rude and offer no further responses to this post as I gotta catch a flight. Debate is good. My concern is that rehashed bashing offers little constructive resolution to the problem.

Interesting that you assume your opinion is based on fact and other opinions are counterfactual. Also interesting you believe the purpose of all military operations are intended to promote prosperity in the nations we conducted operations against. Even more interesting to the point of being entertaining is the notion that we should fix Afghanistan. As your points about Al Qaeda it is worth pointing out that AQ has increased their key operators in other countries where they are expanding their influence while we attempt to fix Afghanistan. One of those countries is Iraq, a country some will argue we fixed with the surge.

Most of us agree with you that AQ was never going to surrender to SOF and the bombs, nor were they going to be converted into peaceful citizens by USAID. The intent of the bombs was to kill them for those very reasons. Fixing Afghanistan was IMO a needless and expensive diversion that even if successful will have little impact on AQ.

The one part of the article that I did find irksome was Kilcullen's point about the future of warfare being increasingly urban. The U.S. military has realized this for decades and I see no evidence that U.S. military has ignored this well known point. We have been operating in urban environments for many years, to include conducting stability operations. Trying to take credit for the obvious is irksome. That is akin to claiming the earth is round.

His analytical approach may be valuable for identifying future problems that should be mitigated, but what does that have to do with his comment that there will be more urban warfare and we better get ready for it?

Sorry Bill M,I missed your post before i responded to MF.

I like your point of Kilcullen's call that the future of warfare will be largely urban, to which you reply with a big duh by saying rightly so that the American military has been concentrating on urban operations for a good while. In fact your shrewd criticism points to a central trope of the coin matrix which has it that an army must always be by nature big and stupid and backward thinking, not understanding the way of the future and stuck in the desire to fight big tank battles on the steppes of Russia. Within this trope of big stupid conventional armies rests the experts who show us a better way as long as we listen to them. See if we have a military that already gets these things then where is the place for the experts to teach us about them?

Your criticism reminds me of the coin refrain, that never seems to end, that the American military after each small war jettisoned its so called lessons and then concentrated only on big wars, and because of this when we did go back to fight a coin war we had to learn these lessons all over again. Unfortunately this simply isnt true as the work of army historian Andrew Birtle has shown. But this refrain has been cleverly applied by the coin experts because once deployed and accepted then the military is slaved to them for their "expert" knowledge to teach us the graduate level of war.

Interesting that you assume your opinion is based on fact and other opinions are counterfactual.

My facts aren't based on a 1950s or 60s war in the jungle against communists. The conflicts cited occurred in more recent years against insurgents with the same philosophies and motivation as in Iraq and Afghanistan. The vast majority of Muslims do not practice Jihad and many of their populations do not adhere to Islam's most radical aspects: acid-throwing, school girl poisoning, honor killings, etc. In the past and in most cases currently, the best examples of more secular Muslim countries have included Egypt, Turkey, and Jordan. Along the Arabian Gulf, many countries have exhibited reasonable (with minority Saudi exceptions) examples of compromise to work with the West to all of our mutual benefit.

The Russians succeeded in turning the entire Afghan population against them while we at least retain many of the 58% that are not Pashtun. After we leave, it is highly unlikely the Taliban minority will retake all of Afghanistan. They may take parts as they should given the travesty of the Durand Line. If ground efforts are solidified using the example of the 1972 Easter Offensive bombings instead of the 1975 look-the-other-way, that counterfactual is enhanced.

There is a major difference between using airpower to finalize ground and COIN/Stability gains vs. bombing trees in the jungle trying to hit supply lines, or risking nuclear war through prolonged bombing of North Vietnam cities and ports hitting civilian and military targets alike.

The Russians flattened Grozny in 1995 and a year later lost it anyway and solidified the hatred of all its southern Islamic neighbors. The Israelis arguably screwed up Lebanon through a long-term occupation that made no apparent attempt to fix combat damage, or work with that government. At least by attempting to build while multinational ISAF holds, we remove some of the appearance of occupation. Hezbollah also attempted to win hearts and minds and made greater progress.

Also interesting you believe the purpose of all military operations are intended to promote prosperity in the nations we conducted operations against.

We conducted operations against Saddam Hussein and his Army, and then against radical Shiite militias, al Qaeda, and other Sunni troublemakers. We tried to restore prosperity to the Iraqi people and their infrastructure thus restoring our own prosperity through oil production resumption.

We continue to promote a government and Afghan security forces that will "hold" against the Islamic-radical Taliban dictators who previously controlled 58% of the population against their will and imposed Shariah law...a practice we prefer not to see spread throughout other Muslim majority nations. If war breaks out in Afghanistan after we leave, at least it will be fought against ANA motivated to defend Tajik, Uzbek, and Hazara territory...and not Punjabi control of Pakistani nukes.

Like Bill M I too had to look up Quant, as I got it confused with that scene from White Men Cant Jump where Billy's girlfriend is on jeopardy and her answer to one of the problems was "what is a "quince."

Anyway and seriously, I am with Mike and I see his points.

I also ask what has happened to Kilcullen and his whole Coin thing? I mean his last book was titled "Counterinsurgency." Now he has moved on to, as Mike characterizes it as a "Quant" thing?

Kilcullen's path is strikingly similar in some ways to Galula's in the early 60s: they are both smart opportunists and once the Coin well dried up they moved on to bigger and better things. But look what is left in the former's wake: a broken strategy in Afghanistan with wasted blood and treasure but a strategy built on the myth that Coin and its experts made it work in Iraq (Kilcullen actually says this in his book AG)and then that very template was applied directly to Afghanistan. Shoot, it is no wonder that Kilcullen was a member of Coin central at CNAS and just a few doors down from him was Exum who stridently recommended Coin Surge version 2 in Afghanistan in late 2009.

Mike, you are right there is no accountability with the quants, but neither was there accountability before when the thing was coin.



David Kilcullen didn't leave anything in his wake but writings and advice. He did not command anything but attention. If, I say if, full or partial implementation of his ideas or advice was wrong and harmful, that is the responsibility of the military officers who were in command. If the strategy is broken and blood spilled and treasure wasted that must be laid at the feet of those in command, both military and civilian.


You wrote:

“But look what is left in the former's wake: a broken strategy in Afghanistan with wasted blood and treasure but a strategy built on the myth that Coin and its experts made it work in Iraq.”

I believe I am correct in saying you have always maintained the position encapsulated in this most recent post that the Surge did little or nothing to reduce the violence in Iraq and it was more to do with other factors which we all understand existed at the time.

I assume you have read the report linked here on SWJ:

'Testing the Surge: Why Did Violence Decline in Iraq in 2007?'

- compiled by Biddle from the Council for Foreign Relations, Friedman from Harvard and Shapiro from Princeton which argues that the Surge was as vital to the success of the Awakening as the latter was to the former.

Am I correct in suggesting this contradicts your view? The Report relies on 190,264 SIGACTS and 70 structured interviews from officers who supposedly fought first hand in some of the actions referred to in the report.

Currently there is considerable debate regarding the objectivity and candour of AARs and the suggestion is at the O6 level and above they have become the ‘Five O’clock Follies’ of today’s generation and are essentially a dishonourable means of gaining promotion. (Similarly the current expose regarding the underhand methods senior officer’s and govt. officials employed in an attempt to thwart the MRAP roll out.)

My question is do you believe the sources used in this report are credible (I have no idea what pay-grade the 70 officers were) if so - why the contradiction in your position and many others who also believe the Surge was in fact a “myth”?




The analysis in the Biddle et al piece is problematic to say the least; and no I dont agree with most of their conclusions. For one they assume that there was an operational shift with the surge, yet they have no evidence to support such an assertion. Yet their assumption is that simply because the Surge armed itself with 3-24 then there must have been an operational shift and thus this shift in tactics played a complimentary part with the Awakening and SOIs; however my research, and the research by others like scholar James Russell on innovation in Iraq prior to the Surge suggests continuity rather than discontinuity in tactical methods.

Moreover, Biddle et al's characterization of the anbar awakening and sons of iraq and the arguments that have been made using these conditions to explain the lowering of violence tend to over simplify, conflate, and even confuse as to the complexity of these conditions and the explanations surrounding them.

Nor do I agree with their characterization of the effect of sectarian cleansing. So to sum up, I have little to agree with in their essay.

You said this which confused me, might you clarify your meaning here:

"Currently there is considerable debate regarding the objectivity and candour of AARs and the suggestion is at the O6 level and above they have become the ‘Five O’clock Follies’ of today’s generation and are essentially a dishonourable means of gaining promotion. (Similarly the current expose regarding the underhand methods senior officer’s and govt. officials employed in an attempt to thwart the MRAP roll out.)

My question is do you believe the sources used in this report are credible (I have no idea what pay-grade the 70 officers were) if so - why the contradiction in your position and many others who also believe the Surge was in fact a 'myth'?"



I assume the authors utilised the 190,000 grid-referenced SIGACT so as to formulate their findings on a holistic data base so as to avoid the subjectivity of the ‘visionary’ who is forced to extrapolate his/her own localised experiences or research based on the AARs of others. Obviously the SIGACTS reveal very little of the nature of the violence and are limited to MNF-I but they pinpoint a very large number of acts of violence on a grid that covers the entire country.

They found good correlation between the increases in troop numbers, initial spikes of violence followed by a steady decline as their presence gained traction which IMO validated their conclusions.

They made a concerted effort to maintain objectivity by characterising these acts of violence with the observations of 70 officers from different nations who were directly involved in these actions in an attempt to avoid the shortcomings of bias, professional rivalry etc. which you refer to.

From your post you appear to reject the relevance of the evidence, their methodology and their conclusions so my second question as to the objectivity of the officers they interviewed is pointless.

However, many thanks for taking the time to reply.



Right but there has been a good deal of other work done that shows violence lowered in Iraq in some areas during the Surge where there was few to none American combat troop presence. There were also areas that fit the pattern you describe, but it was not systematic and across the board. Too, many of the awakening leaders although certainly they say the US played an important role in the Anbari awakening, and the different forms of sunni shifts that happened in places like Baghdad, but many of them say it was not so much the additional troops provided by the surge (and implicitly that they were doing something different operationally) but only that the Surge conveyed a sense of commitment on the part of the US that led to their assessment that the US was going to stay in force for at least a couple of more years (although remember that this was Casey's plan too, to stay in force through 2008 doing coin; the Surge-topia that Casey was recommending a quick American exit is nonsense). But that psychological effect had much greater effect on the non anbari sunnis in places like Baghdad rather than in the West. In the west the Awakening clearly started and worked in certain places in 2004 and 2005 (e.g., Alford's work in al Qaim) so to make the argument that the Awakening needed the Surge to be successful is problematic. Shoot people like Sattar went on the record in interviews saying he told the Americans as the Surge was starting that he DID NOT want more American combat battalions in Anbar.

And again, the biggest problem that i have with the Biddle et al piece is the rock solid assumption that something changed--operationally--with the Surge army; that is to say they assume that the Surge army tactically in terms of coin operations were doing something radically different from before. Both primary evidence and new secondary analyses show this not to be the case.

In fact one can make the counterfactual argument which is based on a reasonable extension of the trajectory of the critical conditions on the ground that were occurring that if President Bush had not replaced Casey with Petraeus (and all of the Surge hoopla that would soon follow), had left Casey in place and had gone with Casey's call for upwards to an additional three brigades, violence would have lowered just as it did with the Surge that actually took place. To assume otherwise, as Biddle et al seems to do, is to suggest that Casey was a dolt, and the rest of the army and marines in Iraq were stupid and would not have capitalized on the same conditions that developed around the actual surge brigades.

Thanks for the discussion (it reminds me of 2008 all over again, but without much of the baggage and bile :))


Bill M,

"how am I seeing it?"

Outside of profit, devoid of any consequence.

A bridge to nowhere.

Quants without strategy and provided in an unlimited and unconstrained fiscal post-Keynesian style often result in bridges to nowhere.

I almost deleted this post, and the others by MAJ Few, because there is not much behind it, excepting a drive-by attack on Dr. Kilcullen's efforts. I will let it stand as an example of unacceptable commentary on SWJ - but WARN - to all and not to just this poster - that if you are going to make substantial and very critical (and in my opinion, personal) commentary here get your ducks in line and fully explain your position, thank you, Dave D.

As uncomforatable as it is to you Dave there is an accountability issue here that Mike Few addresses. We have people like Exum and Kilcullen and others who were head over heels on board with the coin craze, and stridently recommended Surge version 2 in Afghanistan. Now they are off to some other endeavor while we are still mired and stuck with their mistaken strategy in Afghanistan.

It is a fair question though: what happened to all of that chatter on population centric coin of which Kilcullen was one of the leading voices, even here on SWJ in 2007 and 2008?

What happened to it? Where did it go? What has come of their ideas? Why have they stopped writing about it? Has it passed and have they (and we) moved onto something different?

Like Mike, I am looking for answers. All that i hear is silence.

Gian, you know better by now, or at least should. I try not to take sides here in debates and encourage all points of view. That said, I despise one-liner drive-bys even when that view may be correct.


I had to look up Quants, but after looking the definition and reading the article I don't see this project the same way, actually it isn't about providing a strategy, it appears to me to be about providing information in a meaningful way, and then teaming with various experts and the community and then developing solutions to problems. Seems like an innovative approach that actually makes productive use of technology to address current and emerging issues. I think we're all excessively negative after a decade of no strategy for our conflicts in Iraq and Afghanitan, but this isn't COIN.

How are you seeing it? Bill

Bill M,

I'm actually stuck in the middle of the problem set.

That explains my bridge to nowhere comment derivered from the 1970's Havard MBA's
Competing w my father in med properties in Charlotte

Quants before Quals, or common sense.

Dave k is now for profit and not subject to the scruntity of peer review or Beltway bandit.