On Understanding Current Operations in Iraq

Some initial reactions, commentary and links concerning Dave Kilcullen's SWJ post Understanding Current Operations in Iraq:

William Kristol at The Weekly Standard - Richard Lugar, Meet David Kilcullen

... Contrast Lugar's speech with an assessment of the situation in Iraq posted the very next day on the Small Wars Journal website. David Kilcullen, a former Australian military officer, is one of the world's leading experts on counterinsurgency warfare. A sharp critic of the previous U.S. strategy in Iraq, he was asked by General Petraeus to serve as an adviser during the development and early execution of the new strategy. Now finishing up his tour of duty, Kilcullen offered "personal views" of "what's happening, right now." It's worth reproducing much of Kilcullen's report, "Understanding Current Operations in Iraq"...

Max Boot at Commentary's Contentions -- Kilcullen's War

Readers of contentions interested in learning more about current military operations in Iraq than what they get from the headlines (which invariably focus on casualties, not on why or how they were incurred) would be well advised to read two Internet postings. The first is a report by Kimberly Kagan, an independent military historian and analyst, on the website of her think tank, the Institute for the Study of War. The second is a blog post written by David Kilcullen, a former officer in the Australian army with a Ph.D. in anthropology who has been serving as General David Petraeus's chief counterinsurgency adviser. Kilcullen's item is especially interesting because for the past few months he has had an insider's perspective on the operations conducted and planned by U.S. forces in Iraq; in fact, he has been helping to shape the very operations that he explains here...

Rich Lowry at NR's The Corner -- Understanding the Surge

Here's a post by David Kilcullen over at Small Wars Journal on the surge so far...

Paul Reynolds at the BBC - Iraq: Debate on the Baghdad Surge

... Informing the debate is a key article in the Small Wars Journal, a discussion forum founded by former members of the US Marine Corps.

On the site's weblog, the Senior Counterinsurgency Adviser in Iraq, David Kilcullen, an Australian expert, has written about how the plan is supposed to work. He withholds judgment on whether it is succeeding or will do so. On that, he simply observes: "Time will tell."

He points out that major operations in Baghdad and the surrounding provinces started only on 15 June. "This is the end of the beginning: we are now starting to put things onto a viable long-term footing," he said....

Andrew Sullivan at Atlantic's Daily Dish -- Understanding the Surge

I'm still a skeptic, but I'm a better-informed skeptic after reading this.

Jules Crittenden at Forward Movement -- Surge of Understanding

Australian LTC David Kilcullen, counterinsurgency advisor to Petraeus, explains current ops. Mandatory reading...

Michael Goldfarb at The Weekly Standard - Danger Room Kilcullen Exclusive

Over at The Danger Room, Noah Shachtman managed to score an interview with Dr. David Kilcullen, chief counterinsurgency adviser to General David Petraeus. Kilcullen seems to have taken a special interest in the power of the blog, posting regular contributions to the blog run by the Small Wars Journal, the most recent of which can be found here, and participating in the OSD's series of blogger conference calls--excerpts of that conversation can be found here...

John Dwyer at American Thinker -- A Winning Counterinsurgency Strategy

Dr. David Kilcullen, a retired Australian army Lt. Col. with 1st-hand experience of counter-insurgency operations in East Timor and elsewhere, has become one of the leading experts on the formulation of effective 21st century COIN doctrine. (Google his name for documents he's authored on the subject).

Dr. Kilcullen is now the senior counter-insurgency adviser to General David Petraeus, Commander, Multi-National Force-Iraq. Dr. Kilcullen recently spent 6 weeks traveling throughout Iraq visiting U.S. and Iraqi combat units, tribal & community leaders and others. Based on that and his knowledge of the subject, he wrote an article for the Small Wars Journal blog titled: Understanding Current Operations in Iraq."

Jane Roh at National Journal The Gate - Trying To Get Beyond The Politics Of War

U.S. commanders may have reason to hope. An assessment written by a key counterinsurgency adviser to Petraeus is making ripples in the Beltway. Pundits are seizing on it as an I-told-you-so rebuttal of withdrawal advocates, which is why it's worth the time to read it yourself.

The writer is David Kilcullen, an Australian military expert who is now serving as the senior counterinsurgency advisor to Multi-National Force-Iraq. In a post to Small Wars Journal, a blog founded by ex-Marines and one of the go-to guides for a strategic view of Iraq, Kilcullen lays out in plain English the wherefores of ongoing operations there.

Richard Lowry at California Republic - Are We There Yet?

... I want to know what is happening, so I search out the information on my own. During my daily search for information about the war in Iraq, I came across two outstanding articles, one written by a member of General Petraeus' fighting brain trust, David Kilcullen and the other written by a nationally respected scholar, Frederick W. Kagan. Kilcullen, an anthropologist who studied Islamic extremism in Indonesia for his PhD dissertation and former Lieutenant Colonel in the Australian Army, is one of General David Petraeus' closest advisors. He exemplifies the caliber of the leaders gathered on Petraeus' staff. Dr. Kagan is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former professor of military history at the United States Military Academy. Kilcullen's blog is a report directly from the front lines, while Kagan's article is a summary of his recent testimony to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs...

Jack Kelly in the Toledo Blade -- Keep on Surging

"These operations are qualitatively different from what we've done before, " Mr. Kilcullen said in a post at the Small Wars Journal. "Our concept is to knock over several insurgent safe havens simultaneously, in order to prevent the terrorists from relocating their infrastructure from one to another. Unlike on previous occasions, we don't plan to leave these areas once they're secured. These ops will run over months, and the key activity is to stand up viable local security forces - to permanently secure them."

Al-Qaeda had made Baqubah the capital of its "Islamic state of Iraq," and U.S. officials had hoped to bag a lot of its leaders with Arrowhead Ripper. But it appears that many of them read the tea leaves and fled before the operation got under way. This has caused some in the news media to portray Arrowhead Ripper as unsuccessful.

Lt. Col. Kilcullen is unperturbed. "The 'terrain' we are clearing is human terrain, not physical terrain," he explained. "It is about marginalizing al-Qaeda, Shiite extremist militias, and other terrorist groups from the population they prey on. This is why claims that '80 percent of al-Qaeda leadership have fled' don't overly disturb us: The aim is not to kill every last AQ leader, but rather to drive them off the population and keep them off."

Wretchard at The Belmont Club -- Bearings

... David Kilcullen, in explaining operations in Iraq, seems to be mentally at that point already. He does not categorically say 'we are going to win'. He says 'we are making progress here' and 'things are working there'. He is encouraged without being certain. He sees the political and the lead bullets strike home and knows things are not hopeless; that the enemy, like us, are simply men. If they can be defeated individually and in groups they can be defeated collectively. They too are uncertain of victory, perhaps more than we should be and yet have not despaired of it. To their credit they fight on in doubt, sustained by necessity, faith or habit born of a desert patience against adversity. Whether the West can do the same is open to question. It is one thing to criticize current strategy and call for better, to shift more of the burden to Iraqis, to use all the "sources of national power". But it is another thing to say: we have lost. From this there is no redemption; victory can never be guaranteed. But defeat can. What will happen? All Kilcullen can offer in the end is the assessment, "time will tell." Indeed it will.

Noah Shachtman at Wired's Danger Room - Baghdad Walls Key to Baqubah Push?

... Retired Colonel (and present-day blogger) David Kilcullen says that the walls were necessary to turn the security of Baghdad into a more manageable problem -- one that could handled with somewhat fewer American troops...

Phillip Carter at INTEL DUMP -- Explaining "The Surge"

Australian army officer and anthropologist Dave Kilcullen, adviser to Gen. David Petraeus in Baghdad, published a note yesterday on the Small Wars Journal blog discussing the theory behind current operations in Iraq. It is probably the best single-source explanation I've seen for how and why we're doing what we're doing, such as the recent offensives in Baquba and the "Baghdad Belts."

Michael Totten at Middle East Journal - The "Surge" Can Not Yet Have Failed

You can be forgiven if you thought the United States military's "surge" in Iraq has failed. At least you'll be forgiven by me. I quietly assumed some time ago, before I had ever even heard of the surge, that the U.S. is going to lose this war in Iraq because the American public doesn't have the will to stick out a grinding insurgency that might not ever be winnable. I'm not saying it isn't winnable. I really don't know. How could I possibly know? But we live in a democracy with civilian control of the military. If Americans want to give up -- it's over.

But the surge is only just now beginning...

That was two weeks ago. Between then and now, the surge finally started. Only just now has it finally started. It can't yet have failed.

Go over to the Small Wars Journal where Kilcullen describes what the surge strategy is...

Charles Sheehan-Miles at Charles Sheehan-Miles -- Why There May Still be Hope in Iraq

For me, the war in Iraq has never been about domestic politics. It's been about the incredible damage we did in 1991 by encouraging the Kurds and Shia to rebel against Saddam Hussein, then abandoning them to be massacred by their own government. For me the question about the war always centers around: how do we get to a viable end-state in Iraq where the people have a chance at a decent life. Dave Kilcullen over at Small Wars Journal has written an excellent piece which gives some hope to that possibility.

Kilcullen's blog entry is a simple explanation of what the intent of the surge operation is all about. This is important, because a lot of folks are running around saying "the surge has failed!" According to Kilcullen, and most of the other military folks I've been reading, the surge is only now starting. Everything up to now has only been preparation...

Grim at Blackfive -- A Continuing Education in Military Science

Colonel (and Ph.D.) David Kilcullen has a piece up explaining the current operations in Iraq from a COIN perspective. Dr. Kilcullen is, as BlackFive readers know but Pandagon readers probably do not, an Australian officer who has rewritten much of current COIN theory. He is currently serving as General Petraeus' senior advisor on COIN in Iraq.

He is posting to the web in order to talk to you, the citizens of Coalition nations, to tell you what we are doing in Iraq -- what the plan is, and why that is the plan...

John at OPFOR -- Colonel Kilcullen Reports

... So yeah. Go educate yourself.

TigerHawk at TigerHawk -- The "Surge" Explained

A couple of weeks ago I listened to Austin Bay's interview of David Kilkullen, an Australian counterinsurgency expert advising General Petraeus in Iraq, which podcast I highly recommend. Now Kilullen has written a very clear and accessible explanation of the purpose of the "surge" at Small Wars Journal. He does not say whether it is succeeding or not -- it is way too early to tell -- but he does provide the reader with an analytical prism through which to interpret the news...

Westhawk at Westhawk -- Learning Lessons in Baquba

... In this article from the Small Wars Journal blog, Mr. Dave Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency advisor to the military command in Iraq, explains that it is success enough to separate the insurgent enemy from the general population, which the insurgents need for support and protection. From this perspective, the apparently meager results from the Battle of Baquba are really an important incremental success in a larger counterinsurgency strategy...

Abu Muqawama at Abu Muqawama -- Thoughts on Kilcullen

... Okay, says Abu Muqawama, that all sounds good. But the reality is that at this stage the future of the American presence in Iraq is going to be determined by the domestic political debate in Washington, not by events on the ground in Iraq. Abu Muqawama suspects Kilcullen knows this and just can't say it, but even though the U.S. Army and Marine Corps have settled on what very well may have been a "winning" strategy, the American public and its politicians have lost faith in this effort and think it will be about time, come the fall, to bring (most of) the boys home. Abu Muqawama also suspects that Kilcullen and Petraeus are going to end their time in Iraq deeply disappointed, both because they'll wonder what, exactly, was the point of it all if the U.S. was going to pull out anyway and, also, why the Iraqi politicians and factions couldn't get their %$#@ together to allow at least some sort of hope-giving political compromises to take place. Man, how many of us out there wouldn't love to hear Kilcullen's honest thoughts on this a few years from now over a bottle of Scotch?...

Merv Benson at PrairiePundit -- Real Surge Just Beginning

... If you want to understand what is happening in Iraq, read everything Kilcullen has to say. He is there and he understands the strategy better than anyone else who is talking about it. The counterinsurgency strategy is about protecting the people. They are the booty in these operations. As he says, the enemy wants the people to act in a certain way for him to win. When they do not, we are the winners and that is being proven in Diyala and elsewhere. I still maintain that the tip line from the people to the troops is a better metric of success in Iraq than the violence metric of the media.

Your rating: None


I want to thank everyone who contributes to this site. It provides a wealth of knowledge and debate that is insightful for me personally and professionally. I've read many of the links associated with Current Operations in Iraq and I am hopeful that we can continue to pursue and maintain a successful COIN strategy that is truly supported by the additional elements of national power and our economy.

It is frustrating, however, to read about many things as if they are happening for the first time because RIP/TOA information was forever lost as unit after unit has turned over several areas. I have recently read several articles underlying the troubles of Mahmoudiyah and Yusufiyah. Some have stated that there has been no security presence there prior to 2007. Yet, in 2004-2005 a battalion task force established Combat Out Posts in Yusufiyah and Lutafiyah, detaining more than 1100 insurgents, securing the population, reducing the VBIED threat in Baghdad, establishing the presence of two IZ battalions and providing voting polls to an area previously unplanned to participate in elections due to the violence.







This is an enduring mission that is a struggle to secure the population. Once we have suitably changed the environment, we cannot continue to leave people helpless without security only to be force into submission again.

Everyone loves a winner, few will tolerate a loser, and in typically American fashion people will advocate going home if it looks like it is going to be a draw. We owe it to our people and our government to stand honestly firm in the execution of a plan that we knew was required by the spring of 2004. Our voices must be heard amongst our families, civilian friends and co-workers or the patience of the Nation will continue to ebb.

All the best to everyone involved in and supporting the fight.