Customer Reviews: Counterinsurgency
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on May 12, 2010
In the epilogue of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T.E. Lawrence states after reading, `Super flumina Babylonis,' he had a longing to feel himself the node of a national movement.

David Kilcullen should take satisfaction in knowing he achieved Lawrence's longing with his contribution to the United States military re-focus on Counterinsurgency during the recent and ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Kilcullen's interest in the subject is stimulated by his service as an Australian officer with experience in East Timor and Indonesia. He has done an enormous amount of interesting work on the title topic (he has a doctorate in politics from the University of New South Wales at the Australian Defence Force Academy, focusing on the effects of guerrilla warfare on non-state political systems in traditional societies).

He covers writing of the "28 articles," a concise practical guide for junior officers and non-commissioned officers engaged in counter-insurgency operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. I first read the articles in an email chain in 29 Palms after my first deployment to Ar Ramadi, Iraq as a Marine infantry officer. The email had gone viral and I assume every officer who had been or was going to Iraq or Afghanistan not only read it but printed it, highlighted it, wrote notes next to the points and tucked it away in their platoon commander's note book for future reference.

Kilicullen brilliantly takes the complex theories of counterinsurgency and boils them into simple title phrases that can be easily recalled.
#7- Train the squad leaders then trust them
# 13- build trusted networks

These were not just read and forgot but read, digested and implemented at the company and platoon level. My company commander on my second tour to Ar Ramadi in 2007, Marcus Mainz, took # 8 - Rank is nothing talent is everything and frocked two NCOs to lieutenants to run combined action teams living 10 Marines to 100+ Iraqi Police.

Kilcullen also offers an analytical approach on measuring progress in Afghanistan. My twin brother (a Marine JAG officer) who is currently serving in Afghanistan under General McChrystal has relayed to me the CGs emphasis on a new operation culture stressing the importance of measurable metrics. What does the price of exotic vegetables have to do with fighting the Taliban? Everything, Kilcullen tells us.

The Australian combat academic has a gift for straightforward style and also covers Globalization, Bottom up State Formation and Countering Global Insurgency in this definitive indispensable work on counterinsurgency.
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on June 25, 2010
In order to form a rational opinion on the West's involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan it is necessary to have at least a basic idea of what counterinsurgency operations are all about. Without an understanding of the type of operations being conducted and their aims, it is not possible to make a considered determination of whether we are winning or losing, or whether we should get out or stay in for the long haul. Therefore a primer on counterinsurgency written by one of the world leading authorities (both practical and academic) is sorely needed as the West reconsiders its options. Kilcullen's "Counterinsurgency" hits the mark accurately and with power, but it is not without fault.

For those trying to come to grips with all the talk and debate over the progress in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is easily to become swayed by the reports in the media. Without understanding how to measure success in an insurgency and what is trying to be achieved, the general public and the media continue to view progress through the lens of conventional military operations. Killcullen's book provides the background necessary to understand what the West should try to do, why they should try to do it, how to do it, and (very importantly) how to know what you are doing is having the desired effect. This sort of information presented in language that is easy to read and understand has been sorely missing to date, and Kilcullen has done an excellent job of providing an entry level book on counterinsurgency for the layman.

As a primer the book is excellent as it draws together a diverse range of Kilcullen's work on counterinsurgency, from his work in Indonesia and East Timor, to the famous "Twenty-Eight Articles". It is therefore a one-stop shop to get your head around the big issues. However, as Kilcullen has included the articles in their original state, the book offers very little for those who are familiar with Kilcullen's work. This is unfortunate and represents a missed opportunity. Instead of updating the texts, Kilcullen has added a number of "author's notes" to highlight changes in his thinking or in the situation after the article was written. I am hard pressed to understand why the author didn't re-edit and update the articles themselves. This would have added significant value to the work rather than letting the reader know that what they have just read is no longer completely accurate. This is very disappointing.

Despite having articles that are now out-dated, the diversity of the writings that have been included provide a variety of perspectives on the issues involved in counterinsurgency. The book is more than simply a look at Iraq and Afghanistan, it contains insights into the challenges of combating a global insurgency as well as examining counterinsurgency operations conducted by the Indonesians soon after gaining independence. One article that I thought was an interesting inclusion was Kilcullen's report on the Mootain Bridge engagement following the UN intervention in East Timor. This was not so much an insight into insurgencies perse, but rather an example of the power of the media and the need for the troops to think strategically. This is something that is vital in current counterinsurgency operations.

In summary:

An excellent primer on counterinsurgency for those trying to understand it, but offers little to the seasoned campaigner.

I would recommend this book to:

(1) Journalists
(2) New military recruits
(3) Politicians
(4) The general public who wish to make an informed judgment of current operations.
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on May 30, 2010
For students and practitioners of statecraft, nation building, counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism, David Kilcullen is a living legend.

His main claim to fame is as author of the modern classic 'Twenty-Eight Articles', the writing of which apparently started on a whim in a Washington area Starbucks early one March 2006 evening and finished on his laptop at home the wee hours of the following morning. Emailed to a few colleagues for comment that early morning, the article went viral (even I received a copy!) and has now been read in its hundreds of thousands of copies, perhaps millions, translated into multiple languages and a freely available download if one but types its name into an internet search.

An experienced army officer and academic, so steeped in counterinsurgency to have written such a masterwork of community-level operations as 'Twenty-Eight Articles', must have more to say if given book-length scope to say it. 'Counterinsurgency' is David Kilcullen's second book-length opportunity to do so. I was disappointed to discover that it is not really a book but a loosely connected patchwork of his previously published articles, including a repeat of 'Twenty-Eight Articles', each with a patina of his annotations.

An initial point, tantalizingly dangled and then abruptly left hanging, is that the only two hard rules of counter-insurgency are (1) an absolute need to respect non-combatants and (2) to beware of template approaches, given that successful counterinsurgencies are ultimately custom built to fit a particular situation and may involve doing precisely the opposite of a solution that worked in a different insurgency.

The patchwork of articles approach frustrated me as it only partially illustrated any conclusions, and even that was too frequently left to the reader's own inferences. Beyond the author being a key participant and that it allowed the reprinting of a previously published article, I ended confused, for example, as to the logic behind including a 40 page discussion (about 20% of the book) on a minor 1999 engagement during East Timor's separation from Indonesia. If there were broad conclusions that could be drawn from that engagement - the Australian Army, in this instance, was arguably an ultimately successful UN-sponsored insurgent force against the counterinsurgent Indonesian Army - the conclusions should have been spelled out. I was too thick to detect them.

Even the title, 'Counterinsurgency', seems to bait and switch diplomats, aid workers and soldiers hungry for knowledge in advance of a deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. One of the points the author seems guide the reader toward is that if the issue is seen as a counterinsurgency, rather than a competition between systems within which an insurgency operates, the effort may be doomed to defeat itself.

Notwithstanding the lack of organizing frame and direction, the book contained much of value. The brief, stark and sober chapter on measuring performance in Afghanistan was itself worth the price of the book. Likewise, the final chapter contained promising ideas, vexingly only partially developed, about insurgencies as systems best dealt with on a systems level. That concept, more fully elaborated, may have been the great book I was hoping for.

Perhaps my expectations were raised too high by the elegance and blinding clarity of 'Twenty-Eight Articles', but 'Counterinsurgency' ultimately disappoints as a stock and workmanlike addition to the genre, interrupted by brief flashes of blinding insight.
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on July 21, 2011
Over the past ten years our television screens have been filled with images of Afghanistan and Iraq. This oonflict has been described as an insurgency. Various Generals have described the US response to this as a counterinsurgency. I am sure many people wonder what that is. This book answers that very question. It describes how to run a counterinsurgency.

For sure military people need to read this book. The book will arm you with priceless information which might save your life. Others might like the book as a tool to understand what is going on.

The book in reality is a collection of articles by the author, David Kilcullen. The author served as an advisor to General Petrais during the surge in Iraq. He is also a retired LTC with the Australian Army. These articles offer gems of wisdom that will unlock the gates of knowledge about the subject. There is also a few lessons nonmilitary people will like his chapter on indicators. He talks about how you measure success on large projects as counterinsurgency. I also liked the last chapter about the grand world wide islamic counterinsurgency as he put it. The tactics he suggests gives hope to all of us as you watch the TV events.
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on April 16, 2012
This should be one of the textbooks the military uses and references throughout officer and senior NCO schooling. This book explains the deep principles necessary to fight a counterinsurgency rather than the shallow metrics often applied. I wish this had been published in 2002. It would have saved a lot of time and money for the United States.
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on December 8, 2013
Written before the full commitment to Afghanistan - outlining the views of a professional (Australian) infantry officer, drawing on experience in other campaigns. Well thought out and presented clearly. The ten years passed have altered some of the comments and recommendations - but much of it should still be compulsory reading at infantry colleges - and for those interested.

As is outlined in the book, COunter-INsurgency requires an utterly different way of thinking - and training. This is not something that large, peacetime armies are good at. The other aspect is that is does require gaining the hearts and minds of the local people. The biggest problem with that is simply that the average 20 year old soldier (or Marine) can't win the heart and mind of his mother-in-law, so how in blue blazes is he expected to do that to people of another culture - whose language he cannot speak?
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on April 19, 2012
David Kilcullen backs up his first book here with Counterinsurgency which goes into great detail about how to treat civilians and the enemy in an insurgency, such as Afghanistan. And also what not to do in an insurgency. I do recommend this book for any soldier or officer deploying to the Ghan.
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on December 4, 2012
This is a well-written analysis on the principles of counterinsurgency and the development of this kind of warfare to our days. The reason I do not rate it in 5 stars is that the author has concentrated too much on Australian operational experience in Indonesia.
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on September 3, 2011
If you are interested in (or worried about) insurgencies and related topics, this is a good book to read. Kilcullen has "been there" in terms of on the ground counterinsurgency work and also has the intelligence and writing skills to extract useful lessons from what he has seen and to explain them clearly. The book is fairly short and easy to read. It is also used by many professionals in the field as part of the core of study.
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HALL OF FAMEon August 16, 2010
Insurgency is the most widespread form of warfare today, and throughout history. 'Counterinsurgency' is an umbrella term that describes the range of measures used to defeat insurgencies, and include political, administrative, military, economic, psychological, or informational means, and are almost always used in combination. The environment is constantly in flux - insurgents and terrorists evolve rapidly in response to countermeasures. This makes organizational learning and adaptation critical success factors.

Two fundamentals apply throughout: 1)Understand in detail what drives the conflict in any given area or population group. This requires reliable local allies to design, in concert with them, locally tailored measures to target the drivers that sustain the conflict. 2)Act with respect for local people, putting their well-being ahead of any other issue, especially killing the enemy. They must feel safe, with more to gain by talking than fighting. Success also requires discriminating between irreconcilables and irreconcilables, and avoiding making more insurgents in the process.

Insurgent armies are very difficult to pin down because of their lack of reliance on fixed positions - attempting to attack them directly risks dissipating efforts and alienating the population.

The challenge of understanding someone else's country, security it, and building viable allies is much greater in a foreign nation than in one's own turf. Logistics issues further add to the problem.

Establishing a presence is key - this demands a residential approach in close proximity to the population. Driving around in an armored convoy makes you a target and degrades situational awareness. Avoid knee-jerk responses to first impressions - it helps to have an older hand around, or to send some individuals ahead for early learning from the unit to be replaced. Create handover folders for your successors, starting Day One. Focus on fixing grievances that are causing violence, are being exploited, and that you can do something about. About 1/3 - 2/3 of one's forced should be on patrol at any time - preferably spread out and unpredictable. Be leery of children - they create accidents and crowds the enemy can exploit. Create metrics - eg. the number of tips, village leader longevity, etc. Suggested examples include first-to-fire ratio (indicates which side possesses the tactical initiative), ratio of surrendering insurgents to those killed/captured (a larger # may indicate a drop in that group's morale), possession of high ground at down (indicates mastery of mountain warfare), the price of transportation (strength of the enemy in the area). The proportion of ghost employees and the percentage of local officials buying their position are useful measures of fraud. Good metrics also help guide good actions.

The WOT is actually a campaign to counter a global Islamist insurgency. Classical counterinsurgency is designed to defeat insurgency in one country. This demands a strategy to prevent the dispersed elements from linking and functioning as a global system. The doctrine of 'takfir' violates the Quranic injunction against compulsion in religion and holds that Muslims whose beliefs differ from theirs must be killed. Al Qaeda is takfiri, and that general ideology is threatening the Islamic world. This latter section's relationship to the initial material on Afghanistan was not clear.
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