69 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable insight into the dangers and challenges for the world ahead
David Kilcullen's book "The Accidental Guerrilla" is a dense read and requires you to have an intense interest in the subject. It is not for the faint of heart but is well worth the investment of reading in order to understand the subject - our safety. For those of us not involved in the military this book opens the curtain on a world we never see. I have far more respect...
Published on January 28, 2009 by Russ Emrick
21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Finding Small Stories in the Midst of a Book
He's sitting in a hut with mysterious men and I wonder if his throat is about to be slit. One rainy night in West Java, counterinsurgency specialist Dave Kilcullen meets a pair of possible Al-Qaida agents. As he writes, "I never discovered who the two Arabs were... Perhaps they were just students--students who travel by night, with long knives, dropping in uninvited on...
Published on May 20, 2009 by Brian M. Ranzoni
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69 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable insight into the dangers and challenges for the world ahead,
This review is from: The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One (Hardcover)
David Kilcullen's book "The Accidental Guerrilla" is a dense read and requires you to have an intense interest in the subject. It is not for the faint of heart but is well worth the investment of reading in order to understand the subject - our safety. For those of us not involved in the military this book opens the curtain on a world we never see. I have far more respect (and disrespect in some cases) for the people who work so diligently to keep us safe and think about how to protect us from evolving threats and enemies.
David points out that while many US Military leaders where congratulating themselves on the supremacy of US strength and overwhelming dominance new hybrid threats emerged, ones we at first denied and now struggle to adapt to. While the US maintained that no major land war would ever occur again because of our massive armaments, the Chinese, for example, were developing the idea of unrestricted warfare. Colonel Qiao, said, "the first rule of unrestricted warfare is that there are no rules, with nothing forbidden."
Turns out that there are more wars and violence, not less, despite US dominance. The author offers four possible models for understanding why this situation exists and what responses can be taken. These localized wars could be 1) a backlash against Globalization 2) Insurgency has been globalized, i.e. funded and used by large interests that exceed national boundaries such as religious forces 3) a civil war within Islam, and 4) asymmetric warfare, that security should be understand from a functional and capability standpoint leaving the politics out of the evaluation and response.
Great book if you want to understand the dangerous world in which we live and why simplistic answers no longer work. Made me understand the challenges leaders face, and often having to select from 2 bad choices. Very dangerous world that is not getting any better. Read this book if you want to vote meaningfully and make informed decisions with opinions based on facts instead of rhetoric or simply from partisan politics.
107 of 113 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why counter-insurgency is graduate level warfare,
This review is from: The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One (Hardcover)
One warning up front: if someone quotes this book, *check them*. This is a brilliant and comprehensive discussion of the current global environment, but has a lot of provocative comments that could be taken out of context.
Starting with two major case studies (Afghanistan and Iraq) and a few smaller ones (East Timor, Thailand, Pakistan, and the European Union), David Kilcullen builds several arguments. The most salient point to me were the need to identify both overarching patterns (like the movement of Al Qaida money and people) and to develop a refined understanding of each insurgency or movement in isolation. Also important are the concepts of the relative nature of "foreigner", "outsider", "invader" etc. and the absence of absolutes in counterinsurgency.
The case studies are well constructed and rapidly convey the complexity of the cultures and the implications of those complexities, as well as clearly identifying tactics and strategies for gaining the upperhand in the strategic sense. The central point, that many "insurgents" are locals who feel threatened operating with 'outsiders' (who threaten the locals) against other 'outsiders' (who also threaten the locals), is an old lesson of World War II Balkans, the British intervension in Malaysia, the French in Indochina and later the U.S. in Viet Nam. As far as I can tell, the reason it is forgotten is that Western militaries want to focus on big budget, big contract, high tech, maneuver warfare, and diplomats don't want to discuss conflict at all. Guerrilla warfare fits neither world view. Part of the strategic solution to these conflicts is address the issues that are exploited by "foreign fighters" (a.k.a. Al Qaida, but Communists in the past, and who knows what movements in the future). Each regional or country issue is both a part of the larger whole, and a microcosm, and has to be dealt with on both levels. When we try to 'simplify' the problem by lumping things together and ignoring the finer points of local conflicts, we complicate the solution of the local conflicts, and undermine the strategic efforts.
His final recommendations are far reaching, apparently simple, organizationally challenging, but, I believe, would significantly improve the U.S. efforts against the threats that face America.
->Develop (and implicitly, propagate and enforce the use of) a new lexicon to discuss insurgency, counter-insurgency, etc.
->Develop a good 'Grand Strategy'; don't focus on near term solutions, focus on national interest and the sensible allocation of resource towards those ends, and prioritize the geographical regions.
->Rebalance the instruments of national power; the Department of Defense is only one element, the diplomats hold the keys to infomational, diplomatic, and economic instruments, but they aren't manned proportionately.
->Develop a discrete 'Strategic Services' capability, mostly focused on infomation gathering and analysis, and providing humanitarian and other support in target areas.
->Develop a dedicated, central information warfare activity focused on getting our message out to people in 'at risk' regions.
This book is a 'must read' for anyone in diplomatic or military circles.
E. M. Van Court
61 of 64 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Serious discussion of a very complex topic,
This review is from: The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One (Hardcover)
First, the bad points.
Kilcullen writes in a very complex style, uses big words and long paragraphs. In short, it is not an easy-read, listen-to-the-radio, relax by the fire type of book. Reading it requires concentration-I couldn't really read more than 40 pages or so at a single sitting without taking some time to digest the info.
My only other criticism is it is not clear what the target audience is for this book. It is certainly not a mass-market paperback-I would guess the casual reader stops at page 20. But it seems a little light for the diplomatic/intelligence crowd. Rather it is more like an executive summary (albeit a large one) of a 10,000 page CIA analysis.
Now the good points.
First, subject to the above caveats, Kilcullen writes very well. His writing is logically constructed, concise, and has excellent grammar.
This is a man who knows what he is talking about. Kilcullen has advised General Petraeus in the "surge", has first hand knowledge of various insurgencies around the world, and is capable of well-reasoned analysis. I am by no means an expert in the subject, but after reading this book I feel that I know more about low-intensity warfare than most of the world's population, and half its politicians.
Kilcullen approaches the subject from the bottom up. Why are people fighting, who are they fighting, what do they believe in, what resources do they have, what are they willing to risk. Only when those questions are answered, does it make any sense to talk about strategy and tactics. The large powers of the world always seem to get this wrong, both today and in the historical cases cited in the book.
It was also refreshing to read a book on a complex subject where the author presents his own opinions on what might work, why it is a good idea, how it differs from what else has been tried, and what pitfalls might await. I don't have anywhere near the expertise to judge the merit of his opinions, but they are certainly presented in such a way that the seem logical.
A large portion of the book is dedicated to Iraq/Pakistan/Afghanistan and the struggle of the US with Islamic cultures. This book certainly gave me some new thoughts on our efforts to "bring democracy" to this part of the world. Kilcullen's analysis of Iraq is as comprehensive of any I have ever read, and puts some current events into a new perspective.
While the book brings out great detail on the "soft" side of low intensity warfare- namely culture and people issues, that is not to say that military weapons, strategies and tactics are outside Kilcullen's expertise. There are many details and discussions of these areas, but to be honest, they were not as interesting to me as the root causes and human side. Perhaps that is because this is a rare treatment of those issues.
This is a great book if you are a serious student of modern events relating to warfare. Be warned, it is not an easy- or even fun- book to read. I found it more like reading a technical paper for something related to my profession- it requires careful reading and adequate processing time.
I also found myself reaching for a dictionary on occasion. Kilcullen uses words very precisely, and it is worth making sure you understand the exact nuances of the words he uses. Similarly, I found myself looking at maps to make sure I understood the geographical context of the work.
This book is a definite read for anyone seriously interested in this topic. It should be required reading for any "talking head" that shows up on the news channels spouting their opinions on modern warfare. I would also hope that it is on the West Point required reading list...as well as the Oval Office and Capitol Hill.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Relevant & Important Strategic Report of the Low Intensity Conflicts Being Waged Ancillary To The War On Terror,
Review of David Kilcullen's "The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One."
In "The Accidental Guerrilla" professional soldier and author David Kilcullen of Australia, reputed to be "one of the world's most influential experts on counterinsurgency and modern warfare," provides his professional experience and insight into the war-torn & war-prone third world post colonialist nations, waging "small wars," and the West's influence upon them in the midst of "The Big War." The most important aspect Kilcullen brings to light is the fact that "the majority of adversaries we have been fighting since 9/11 are in fact 'accidental guerrillas'--people who fight us, not because they hate the West and seek our overthrow, but because we have invaded their space to deal with an extremist element that has manipulated and exploited local grievances to gain power in their societies."
The main thrust of the book is the distinguishing of the USA's "War on Terrorism" and its relation to the associated "conflicts" across the globe located in the countries of Iraq, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Chechnya, Pakistan and North Africa.
"The author sees today's conflicts as a complex pairing of contrasting trends: local social networks and worldwide movements; traditional and postmodern culture; local insurgencies seeking autonomy and a broader pan-Islamic campaign. He warns that America's actions in the war on terrorism have tended to conflate these trends, blurring the distinction between local and global struggles and thus enormously complicating our challenges. Indeed, the US had done a poor job of applying different tactics to these very different situations, continually misidentifying insurgents with limited aims and legitimate grievances . . . as part of a coordinated worldwide terror network."
Kilcullen's suggestion to the West is that "we must learn how to disentangle these strands, develop strategies that deal with global threats, avoid local conflicts where possible, and win them where necessary." I agree.
This is not "dry" political/military science. Written in first person style and replete with the experiences and observations of the author this book is understandable to the layman & yet carries an unmistakable air of authority. In short, the author seems to know what he is talking about. Of course it doesn't hurt that the author can write well. From the Prologue to the Conclusion I was hooked. Well done.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As in depth as it gets...,
Many years ago as a college student, I actually had a class which dealt with terrorism. Now in 1984, terrorism was something isolated to Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The texts we had in those days were academic in their presentation, but really very superficial when it came to an in-depth analysis of the factors which contribute to terrorism, etc.
Not so with Kilcullen's outstanding text. For a book of less than 300 pages, I am still struck by both the quantity and quality of the analysis. Kilcullen covers a wide range of small wars from West Java to Iraq, Afghanistan, Indonesia, and Europe. He does not skimp on the detail and gives exhaustive voice to the factions, the issues and the basic human conditions that contribute to violent conflict.
I found the title very appropriate. As lay people we often take for granted that those who initiate insurgencies and terrorist activities actually planned to do so far in advance. This text shows how certain factors become catalysts that quite literally impel a population into the very sorts of violent actions that have played across our TV and computer screens since 9/11.
Kilcullen doesn't just give us the backdrop and story, but takes his analysis further to show how nations such as the US can achieve success in these types of conflicts, which we can only expect to be more the norm as our modern world evolves.
This is not reading for the faint of heart. This book compels your attention and your focus. But the reader who applies himself will be rewarded with a far greater understanding of these conflicts and how nations such as the US can find workable solutions to combating and preventing them in the future.
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A graduate seminar on counterinsurgency,
As other reviewers have pointed out, this is a detailed discussion of the world of counterinsurgency. It is not all about Iraq and Afghanistan as Kilcullen has had experience in East Timor and Indonesia during his service in the Australian Army. It opens with a Prologue describing his time in Java, in 1996, when he first encountered young men who were opposed to the government and who were accompanied by other young men who did not speak the local language well and who began to question him about Palestine. He believes that these were Arabs already infiltrating local groups with the intent of engaging them in transnational Muslim radicalism, what he calls global takfiri insurgency.
He poses four possible models for 21st century security issues. One is a backlash against globalization. The second is a globalized insurgency. His third model is a civil war within Islam. Fourth is asymmetric warfare, a functional model rather than an explanation of causes. All four probably apply to varying degrees, depending on the area. He even has a section on Europe and the Muslim "no-go zones," which may pose a serious insurgency problem soon.
He then goes on to describe his central thesis of the "accidental guerilla" in which local insurgencies are stirred up and, to some extent, directed by outside forces, the global insurgency. The tactics of the takfiris, which are provocation and response to outside actors like the US, are described in four general stages. First is Provocation, 9/11 being an extreme example. Next is Intimidation, the prevention of cooperation between the local population and the local government by the insurgents who may kill "collaborators." Third is Protraction, an effort to prolong the conflict and exhaust the government's political will. Exhaustion is the final goal.
The actual steps of "accidental guerilla syndrome" go from "Infection," the introduction of transnational insurgents into local disputes, to "Contagion," where the outside groups extend their influence to the country at large. Pakistan is now in this phase. The third, "Intervention" phase involves the government's response to provocation. If it is clumsy or involves outside forces like the US, it may stimulate a local "Rejection," which he describes elsewhere as an "autoimmune" response. His Pakistan case study is an example.
He then goes on in most of the book to describe case studies, not just in Iraq and Afghanistan but in less well understood cases such as southern Thailand where the Buddhist central government has clumsily handled a local Muslim insurgency,in the former Sultanate of Patani. The Patani provinces are Malay and Muslim and were ruled independently until 1902 when the Sultanate was annexed to the Kingdom of Siam. He provides a thorough study of the East Timor emergency in which Australia intervened and in which the "accidental guerilla syndrome" was avoided. He notes that, unlike most of the other insurgencies he describes, East Timor is Catholic. He also points out that many of these southern Asian religious movements, both Islamic and Catholic, incorporate pre-existing animist and magical beliefs. For this reason, the outside takfiri Muslim radicals may alienate locals the way they have alienated the Sunnis of Anbar Province in Iraq. This is a view into the civil war in Islam that may be driving a lot of the insurgency, at least the transnational movement.
His insight into Afghanistan is sobering. Chapter 2, titled "The Crazies Will Kill Them," discusses the role of the outside terrorist forces that infiltrate Afghan villages from Pakistan's tribal areas. Afghanistan is divided into narrow valleys with a central river and one entrance and exit. This makes ambushes a major factor and the village families have passed ambush sites down since Alexander the Great just as American rural families may pass down local knowledge of favorite fishing spots. Afghan villages are constructed as forts with observation towers and rifle slits instead of windows in the houses. He refers to Winston Churchill's The Story of The Malakand Field Force, still in print 110 years after it was published, and notes that the same village described in the book is still a center of insurgency with an al Qeada leader killed there by a predator strike last year.
Afghanistan is a primitive society and we must be realistic about the prospects for a viable nation state there. He has a lengthy analysis of Pakistan and the FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas), which was a major source of conflict for the British in 1897. Little has changed although the major difference now is that we are trying to keep traffic from Pakistan to Afghanistan controlled rather than the opposite, which was the case in 1897.
One major failure in Iraq was the inability to recognize the tribal nature of almost all of the country. When Paul Bremer took over as CPA chief, the focus was on building a western-style democracy and suppressing the tribes. The reason the Surge succeeded was the recognition of the importance of the tribes, even among most of the urban population of Baghdad, and the ability to work with them. A second major failure in Iraq was the delayed recognition of the importance of the 2006 Samarra Mosque bombing, which did ignite a civil war between Shia and Sunni. He notes that it took four months before the change in the nature of the conflict was recognized by the Army and CPA.
He has a number of recommendations that have been described in other reviews. The best, I think, is that an OSS-like organization should be founded and a reserve corps of civil affairs officers is needed. In Iraq by 2004, we needed a lot of police experts to train Iraqis in local policing and crime control. Most of these experts in the US Army are reservists and are police officers when not on active duty. It was a terrible burden on these reservists and more need to be recruited with a better way to handle deployment.
Chapter 5, "Turning an Elephant Into a Mouse" is the only disappointing part of the book. On page 233, he writes that, "the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 was an extremely serious strategic mistake." There are certainly many people who agree with him. The problem with this statement, and the discussion that follows, is a failure to consider the strategic situation when that decision was made. I have found this to be an extremely common omission. He writes, on page 235, that "we should avoid any future large-scale, unilateral military intervention in the Islamic world." This is a fair point but the decision to intervene was NOT IN 2003 ! He never refers to the 1991 Gulf War, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait or the aftermath of the Gulf War, including the discovery of an advanced WMD program in Iraq. A program that was far more advanced than any intelligence estimate before that war and subsequent occupation.
A strategist as talented as Colonel Kilcullen should have discussed the strategic situation at the time of 9/11. The reason given by Osama bin laden for the attack was our presence in Saudi Arabia as a consequence of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1991. Lesser commentators have ignored the complicated circumstances with the "no-fly" zones and low level conflict that was under way from 1992 to 2001. It is disappointing to see Colonel Kilcullen do so. Other than that complaint, I found the book riveting and impressive in its detailed discussion of the world-wide insurgency we face. A student of this protracted conflict would do well to read a few other books. I would recommend War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism, by Douglas Feith, for discussion of the strategic situation that faced the Bush Administration in 2003. Among Colonel Kilcullen's recommendations in his final chapter, is a "strategic information campaign" (page 263) but Douglas Feith tried to start such a program in the Defense Department twice only to be derailed by Iraq War opponents (See my review of that book). The other book I would recommend is Imperial Grunts: On the Ground with the American Military, from Mongolia to the Philippines to Iraq and Beyond, by Robert D Kaplan, which goes into some detail about small unit actions going on all over the world. It fills in some detail on the recommendations of Colonel Kilcullen although it covers events a few years ago. The strategic aims of the authors agree.
This book is extremely detailed and, as another reviewer wrote, takes time and a high interest level, to complete. The "War on Terror," probably by another name, will be with us for a generation. Those who want to know the facts will find many of them here.
21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Finding Small Stories in the Midst of a Book,
He's sitting in a hut with mysterious men and I wonder if his throat is about to be slit. One rainy night in West Java, counterinsurgency specialist Dave Kilcullen meets a pair of possible Al-Qaida agents. As he writes, "I never discovered who the two Arabs were... Perhaps they were just students--students who travel by night, with long knives, dropping in uninvited on foreign researchers to quiz them on Arab-Israeli politics..."
So opens Kilcullen's *The Accidental Guerilla*. Fresh from his stint as "the Senior Counterinsurgency Advisor to General Petraeus in Iraq", the Australia veteran gives us his theory of counterinsurgency.
You're not-so-humble narrator is a military veteran too. I served four years on an amphibious warfare ship, occasionally supporting counterterror ops. In the aftermath of 9/11, I served Navy Security Force, assisting various people in counterinsurgency training, when I wasn't protecting assets bound for Afghanistan.
*The Accidental Guerilla* is better sourced, and includes more believable anecdotes, than past military science books I've read. So Kilcullen's arguments appeal to me--and probably a lot of other people. Both Afghanistan and Iraq started out so swell--like a Sir Ridley Scott or William Wallace movie. But neither Al-Qaida, the Taliban, or the Ba'athists had been defeated--they simply stepped aside of our juggernaut, then punched it in the side of the head. With this embarrassment, Westerners seem interested in other approaches.
Granted, there's plenty of folk who still like Sheriff Bush and his hang-`em-high approach to counterinsurgency. Kilcullen's approach is not a field manual for soldiers. Kilcullen's solutions aren't sexy. They don't offer lucrative nation-building contracts. You can't make a funbudumb video game out of this book (a game that's fun, but dumb). Finally, the crusaders amongst us believe that the best way to battle terrorists is to become them.
Ya gotta talk in their terms, to their needs. Kilcullen fails this in three ways.
First, the audience for this book is not clear. Too dense for lay readers, too light for academic readers, and too short overall. As other reviewers have pointed out, *The Accidental Guerilla* reads more like an abstract for executives who don't want to plow through a phone book report--such as a Commander-in-Chief, a Secretary of Defense, or a Director of Central Intelligence. Yet it lacks the graphs, charts, transcripts, and references to unclassified or redacted sources of a serious G-man report. Likewise, it contains way more jargon and assumptions of familiarity than a pop military reader will need or want.
That last bit was the killer for me. Like Darwin's *On the Origins of Species*, this is a concise and beautifully written work. And like *Origins*, few people will be able to actually read through it. Kilcullen writes in a dry and semi-complex grammatical structure; chock full of ACRONYMS, abbv, and institutional terminology; meandering along conceptual asides dotted with footnotes (and often ending or interrupted by parenthetical elaborations). Hulk no like!
I understand every word he's saying, but I gotta be honest, I can't get past his four models of the modern threat environment without falling asleep in the bathtub. And that stuff is just in the first 26 pages. Equally irritating is that Kilcullen clearly has a personal language for his subject, but he doesn't consistently define his own terms. While he illustrates the "takfiri" movement throughout the book, I had to go all the way to the endnotes just to get an approximation of a complete definition. Takfiri is a core concept to be denoted in body text--not notes. So Kilcullen's second failure is paucity of engaging prose.
Once the book breaks past the blocks of thesis, it moves swiftly in the anecdotes. One of the big things I hammered Dave Grossman's *On Killing* about was that he kept regurgitating other people's work. Kilcullen actually provides excerpts of his own after-action diary. As he worked alongside heavyweights in Iraq, his own adventures carry weight with me.
To carry other readers, however, Kilcullen needs to address their concerns. Most of his readers already know that traditional counter-insurgency failed, alongside big field military ops. The readers he needs to persuade are the John McClanes and John Waynes who almost put John McCain in the White House (oh, and don't forget that classic asymmetrical warrior, John Rambo). These voters still treat our enemies as a homogenous horde of killbots, who need to be bombed into pieces for peace. Then there are Army vets and spouses I've met, who feel that General Petraeus's methods increased deployment turnarounds, resulting in added harm to soldiers and their families. These people may or may not believe the stress was worth the rewards.
So whether chickenhawks or the real thing, if you don't address these folks, you lose before you begin. Kilcullen's third failure is preaching to a choir.
The simplest solution to all three problems is simply to make the entire book read like his prologue and field notes. Tense, exciting, and yet smart and educated. If Kilcullen gets the chance, I recommend he write a whole new version down the line, making it read like a novel. You can give us the facts, sir, but not just the facts.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling and necessary read,
This book, written by one of General Petraeus' advisors is a intelligent and thorough examination of US strategy on terrorism as well as examination of terrorism. The "accidental guerrillas" of this book are the small local insurgents with limited and regional aims and goals. These are juxtaposed against terrorists who have a world wide theatre of action and aim for global change. The problem, the author argues, is that US policy often confuses the two and in doing so gives the latter more strength.
The author talks in depth about the Surge in Iraq and why it was successful, but the author is also realistic: "the surge worked: but in the final analysis, it was an effort to save ourselves from the more desperate consequences of a situation we should have never gotten ourselves into."
The author gives example after example to illustrate his points and it is clear that he is very well versed in this field. Ultimately, the author argues for a new understanding of warfare; a warfare that must constantly adapt and be ready to respond in many different ways. The author concludes his book with his five recommendations (what he calls "practical steps") to help make this need transformation a reality.
All in all, this is a very well written and well argued book. No matter what your political bent is, this book is a necessary read. I am looking forward to the debate and conversation that this work will inspire. If you are interested in current politics and military history, this is definite must. Enjoy!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Accidental Guerilla Can Be Defused,
David Kilcullen's "The Accidental Guerilla" can be dry reading. It is not meant for anyone but the seriously interested and is aimed at military professionals and diplomatic personnel. The lessons within can seem like nothing new. But especially for soldiers and civilians currently serving in Mesopotamia or Afghanistan, the author's insights and conclusions into fighting and succeeding in today's wars will be of significant value.
Kilcullen's thesis is that the people who fight us do so not for who we are, but for what we do. The author agrees that there are radical Islamists but the majority of the insurgents we fight today fight us not because we are decadent Westerners but because we are foreigners interfering in their culture, their politics and even invading their homelands. This group of "Accidental Guerillas," who would not fight us if we were not in their cities and villages, are then exploited by al-Qaeda for their own cynical purposes.
These accidental guerillas can be defused through several channels. The author makes it a point to address al-Qaeda as "takfiris," heretics against Islam, in order to begin separating them from mainstream Muslims. He also stresses local projects that heavily involve local people, such as the road project in Afghanistan's Kunar Province. Bringing lasting security to local civilian populations is critical to getting them to turn away from insurgents and terrorists. Addressing grievances and seeking to split the multi-faceted insurgency is also critical, as we have seen with the Sons of Iraq movement in that theatre.
The strongest lesson Kilcullen offered in regards to fighting counterinsurgencies is that they should be avoided. Stating his opinion that the US should never have involved itself in Iraq, he recognizes that something must be done to right things as best as possible. As a former military man and sometime US government employee however, he refrains from blasting the former administration directly. "The Accidental Guerilla" will be another important tool in the warrior's toolkit--be they soldier or civilian.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hybrid Approach to Counter-Insurgency,
This book may not seem an inspiring read to those who are not interested in public policy, international conflicts, or the study/practice of war. Yet, I found this book to have some indirect relevancies to thoughts I've been having often these days.
I'm talking about the strange interconnectedness of our modern world, indeed the very universe we inhabit, and the multidimensional, highly novel series of coincidences that seems to manifest itself time and time again into the course of events that shape human history and even our day to day lives. Real life and the real world is hardly simplistic. It is often counter-intuitive, paradoxical, and requires a sophisticated, nuanced approach to understand and cope with its complexities.
No example better illustrates this than the messy web of related issues, controversies, and problems that define the political and military struggles in Iraq and similar international conflicts. Kilcullen presents a picture of conflict that does away with our traditional conceptualization of warfare itself as an organized, distinct, and largely monolithic "thing". Rather, as we see, the larger conflict we identify and think we are fighting is made up of and accompanied by many smaller ones that ultimately come down to individuals with their own grievances. Even wars between nations are really wars between human beings.
The dimensions of conflict can be far more complex than our traditional paradigms allow for. Not only does nationality, but religion, ethnicity, and even family identities play roles in shaping conflict. So, while we might refer casually to the "war" in Iraq, the notion of a single, unitary struggle is hardly representative of what's happening on the ground. Instead, we find a host of different groups, with many distinct interests and goals, which can themselves either fight or work together. This was displayed most recently in so-called "Sunni Awakening" in Anbar, as the U.S. accommodated Sunni militias, who were largely nationalistic insurgents fighting what they saw as a pro-Shi'ite U.S. occupation, and brought them on to the U.S. side, whereas prior the U.S. had simply regarded all insurgents across the board as "terrorists" in the most simple terms. Kilcullen was, in fact, one of the architects behind General David Patraeus' counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq.
In that spirit, the Author's thesis lays out the framework for his theory of "conflict ethnography" that is meant to better cope with the "true micro-details of war zone social behavior". We are introduced to the books' quintessential archetype: the so-called 'accidental guerilla'. The basic notion, and point, is that not all the people fighting on the side of 'the enemy' are necessarily committed to the cause of the enemy. In fact, people often fight for much more practical reasons, and much more complex sociological and cultural forces come in determining whether a population will side with you, or decide to take up arms against you. Thus, those you might easily mistake as jihadists may actually be acting out of patriotism, ethnic pride, practical necessity, or complex socio-cultural calculus. It's actually quite common sense if one thinks about it in more down-to-earth terms: people may take up arms for many reasons or grievances, and one in no legitimizes their methods simply by validating their motives. As such, these "accidental guerrillas" can be dealt with in ways that dedicated jihadists cannot. There are the Bin Ladens of the world, but then there are the far more numerous accidental guerrillas whose goals are not the destruction of America or Western Civilization, but simply a better share of their national pie, regional autonomy, or the withdrawl of western forces from their land. Accommodations, political settlements, and addressing the specific concerns and sensitivities of these parties with the necessary historical, cultural, and political awareness can mean the difference between a small group of suicidal fanatics, and a large-scale insurgency that spreads like wildfire. In many respects , it harkens back to the idea of fighting for 'hearts and minds', but in a much more modern and sophisticated, and much less naïve or idealistic fashion.
The book does not just look at Iraq, but instances of civil unrest and revolts from around the world to glean conclusions and generalizations on a broader theory and prescription wherever possible. The result is a much more powerful argument that draws from a large number of different case studies. In this way, Kilcullen produces something that is more theoretically sound and focuses on a more detailed appreciation of the complexities of human behavior. While religious and political fanaticism may be strong impulses and might prompt many to take up a cause, Kilcullen underscores that a much larger majority of people make decisions based on biographical factors. The notion of all terrorists being the same or even of all Islamic terrorist being the same, negates what we know about human behavior: that for most people behaviors are influenced by many things, not just the "isms". Personal relationships, financial matters, political and historical grievances, history, perceptions, and culture all come into play, and thus all counterinsurgencies seem to require detailed analyses of the various groups involved and their differences, in order formulate full-spectrum strategies for dealing with them and help shape circumstances most beneficial to minimizing the power and impact of insurgents. In short, attack terrorism and insurgency not just by killing the individuals, but by killing the processes and circumstances that are fueling it.
One may not agree with all of what the author presents, and one may, as I have, draw their own wider interpretations from the book's thesis. But this book gives a much needed dose of reality to an American public that often tends to think ideologically and emotionally at worst, and dogmatically at best. Untying the knot we've made for ourselves in Iraq and those that exist for other reasons elsewhere involves being able to adopt a more systemic view of the world that appreciates that insurgencies and terrorism are not phenomena that can be quelled by brute military force alone, but must be accompanied and even guided by, much larger and more forward looking socio-politically-derived strategies and tactics. This is not "total war", it is a new hybrid form of warfare in Kilcullen's eyes, and one that requires a new hybrid approach if it is to be effectively dealt with.
As far as reading goes, it's fairly technical and scholarly in its approach, yet readable enough thanks to an accessible prose and an engaging style. Still, it's not quite what I would call "light" reading or popular reading, I would recommend this most to those who wish to seriously think about warfare, U.S. policy, and the social and cultural dimensions of human conflict.
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The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One by David Kilcullen (Hardcover - March 16, 2009)
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