Strategist Behind War Gains

Today's edition of The Australian offers up a profile on counterinsurgency expert, and Small Wars Journal contributor, Dr. David Kilcullen -- Strategist Behind War Gains by Rebecca Weisser.

... when the invasion of Iraq was being planned, Kilcullen was one of a handful of senior military advisers in the coalition of the —to voice a dissenting view. "I was one of a bunch of people ... who said 'Iraq is going to be a lot harder than you people seem to think, based on 20 years of experience doing it and studying it. It's going to take a lot more than you seem to be —to commit."

It was a view that then US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld rejected out of hand, saying Kilcullen didn't know what he was talking about.

But now, after more than four years of entrenched conflict with no end in sight, Kilcullen's doctrine of counterinsurgency prevails in Washington and on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq, where it provided the foundation for the surge strategy the Bush administration says is beginning to succeed.

His no-nonsense guide to fighting insurgents, The 28 Articles: Fundamentals of Company-Level Counterinsurgency, is used by the US, Australian, British, Canadian, Dutch, Iraqi and Afghan armies as a training document.

The fact that Kilcullen turned out to be right did not initially win him and his supporters any friends in Washington. "Because we said something that turned out to be a little prescient, we were on the nose in Washington for a couple of years there. People didn't want to engage with us because it would be like an admission of failure."

But after Rumsfeld resigned, Kilcullen's friend David Petraeus was appointed commander of the multinational force in Iraq. Petraeus and Kilcullen had shared the same views on Iraq since 2003 and Petraeus asked Kilcullen to be his senior adviser.

Kilcullen's philosophical approach to counterinsurgency overturned the prevailing orthodoxy. The goal was no longer finding and killing the enemy: it became protecting the population that supports the country's government, winning more and more people to that group and pushing the insurgents to the margins. "If you try to kill the enemy, you end up destroying the haystack to kill the needle," Kilcullen tells Inquirer. "But you can drive the insurgents away, like combing fleas out of a dog. And then you hard-wire them out of the environment."

In 2006, Kilcullen started working with Petraeus on a military handbook about a new approach to the war. For reputedly the first time in the US, the military workshopped the handbook with the human rights and legal community, non-government organisations such as aid groups, and diplomats. After six months, in another first, they circulated it among junior officers in the field. The feedback was blunt. Company commanders needed something more practical.

Much more at The Australian...

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I know that this isn't the right forum to get in in touch with you since you have moved on to bigger and better things since I saw you last in Balibo (!) but I am hoping you will see the comment and respond.

I have been an avid reader of your papers of late and think you have it right on the money.

We have, as you are aware, different issues here in Indonesia, and I would be keen to discuss those with you in another forum if you have the time.

Bryson Keenan

The time it takes for a successful counterinsurgency (COIN) is no secret to our American military. In many of our professional forums we analyzed and discussed the British experiences in Oman and Malaysia, among others. COIN and Foreign Internal Defense (FID) were never glamorous topics that attracted major military expenditures. One can look at the Air Force Special Operations FID chronology and growth from its origins in the 1960s to a current token capability that cannot affect much. Since we know it takes a long time for successful counterinsurgencies, why didnt we apply the historic lessons learned to the Iraq strategy? Central Commands owns the Iraq operational planning and all its shortfalls. It gets down to personalities, doesnt it? Secretary Rumsfield and General Franks resisted General Shinsekis initial inputs. General Franks component commanders did not strongly challenge a thin phase IV occupation plan (if you can even call it a plan); and the President was idealistic about transforming an Arab society with three major sectarian groups within a prescribed time frame. However, we do have an opportunity, created by the surge, and the President can still make a difference, late as it is in his term. The President should bring in all of his political opponents and, working with his military leaders, map out a policy and strategy with respect to Iraq and the surrounding areas, that will bridge the election, keep the pressure on the Iranians, and get some stability to the region. (We might even educate Obama and Edwards from their incredibly naive election year statements). We can do this; however, it takes political courage. It takes a bi-partisan approach. It takes good Americans to stand up and get it done right!

Chaps, while it is of course flattering to be commented on in such unjustifiably glowing terms in the Australian, I would suggest you all take the article with a grain of salt as the author very nicely, but significantly overstates my personal role and influence -- as everyone at SWJ knows, I am (and ever was) just a field guy, one small part of a much larger and far more distinguished group of people, and one adviser among many, not one of the principals (not even one of the principal advisers). In particular, the leadership of people like David Petraeus, Ryan Crocker, James Mattis, Graeme Lamb, Ray Odierno, Eliot Cohen and the insights of most of the authors on the SWJ blog, and several others have been essential in generating the progress we see on the ground (and which, still, may or may not be enough to get us over the line). I was not and am not the "architect" of anything. I have been privileged to be along for the ride with a distinguished band of people, but the credit (if history deems any credit to be owing) firmly resides with others. God knows I have certainly made more than my fair share of mistakes.

More importantly than what our colleagues in the media write, be it good or bad, is the fact that the fight to save Iraqi lives goes on, and those who bear the brunt of the effort - Iraqi and Coalition, civilian and military -- are the ones to whom we owe the success we are starting to see. At this point, those of us who did not start the war but are now entrusted with its prosecution can only play the hand we have been dealt as intelligently as possible, stay objective, and accept the result, in a clear-eyed manner, as it unfolds.


Dave K