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Old 01-07-2007   #80
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Default From the Horse's Mouth

The following reply fm Dave Kilcullen to Fabius Maximus's courtesy e-mail (ref the "heads up" below) re FM's new article (see prior post this thread). Posted here per permission in text. We think the added analysis and context from Dave is valuable and hugely appropriate for this forum. See also this thread. And FM's original post links to the other works cited.

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"Fabius",

Thanks for the heads-up, I actually spotted your article and also the discussion at SWJ that preceded it. I'm flattered and honored that you guys expended so much energy discussing my stuff, and very much appreciated everyone's comments in the discussion, from which I learned a great deal. You'll notice I've cc'd Dave Dilegge and Bill Nagle over at SWJ on this response. (Bill, Dave -- please feel free to post this if you think it's appropriate but the decision is yours).

"Fabius", I'd be very happy to engage with you in a more detailed discussion of my ideas, of which "28 articles" is actually not a particularly representative sample: I wrote it in response to specific requests from several deployed company commanders when I was in Iraq in January-March 2006, and as I write at the start of it (bottom of page 1 on the internet version) "there are no universal answers...what follows are observations from collective experience: the distilled essence of what those who went before you learned. They are expressed as commandments, for clarity, but are really more like folklore. Apply them judiciously and skeptically."

In other words, in 28 articles I'm not expressing my latest "experimental" or strategic thinking, but rather trying to provide a quick compilation of ready-reference tactical ideas based on extant "classical" COIN thinking, and where possible drawn from proven experience from the field. I'm fundamentally a practitioner rather than a theorist, and my aim was mainly to meet an immediate need from colleagues in the field.

I do have other thoughts on these issues; "Counterinsurgency Redux" and "Complex Warfighting", as well as the long (internet) version of "Countering Global Insurgency" are the things I have written that come closest to expressing those other thoughts.

But I am extremely cautious about claiming to have any particular answers here. I don't believe I do have the answer, and as I write in those other papers, although COIN theory is a better fit for current problems in the WOT than is CT theory, it's not a perfect fit. Indeed, I would argue that this set of conflicts we are in actually breaks all our existing paradigms so that we need a fundamental re-think. (BTW, I'm including 4GW in the subset of existing paradigms that need to be re-thought: I don't support the ad hominem criticisms that anti-4GW people mount, and I think there is much extremely valuable and insightful material in the 4GW corpus of writing, but I'm still yet to be convinced that 4GW as currently expressed, or indeed any other paradigm including COIN, contains all the answers we seek for the present round of conflicts.)

But I don't claim to have the answer. I sometimes feel as if a new paradigm is on the tip of my tongue, and I have a strong feeling that the solution (if there is one) is about a strategic form of armed propaganda that goes well beyond our current concept of IO into a type of semi-kinetic "influence operations". But I'm still working through all of this, and others smarter and better equipped than I are also working through it. The search for a solution is way bigger and much more important than any one individual or ego.

Also, as I just hinted, I often doubt that there is a single universal set of "answers" out there, except in the sense that we must always study each problem in its own terms and in the greatest level of detail we can muster in the time available, and then diagnose a tailored and situation-specific approach, consistent with sound principles, to deal with it. But that's simply to state the obvious -- as I say in pretty much everything I have written, I don't believe there is any single, fixed, templated or "silver bullet" solution here.

I have to say, however, that as a practitioner I don't believe any of these discussions are ready for prime time. What the guys need in the field are workable frameworks and basic assumptions that help them in their day-to-day. So (especially in "28 articles") I have tried to help where I can without claiming COIN as the silver bullet solution to problems that are actually far more complex. I try to keep the speculative stuff for forums where it won't confuse guys whose average day is way more complicated and dangerous than mine.

Do I believe that the admonitions I make in the paper can be carried out by the average company commander? Actually I have huge confidence in the adaptability and agility of the guys in the field and have been impressed, again and again, as I have served with them in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. But even if the advice is not strictly achievable, I still think it's worth giving since it helps turn the "ship of state" in the right direction.

If you articulate a position ten steps to the left and the organization only takes two steps in that direction, that's a good result in my view-- if you articulate a position too close to the status quo, the result is no change at all. Some of the advice in "28 articles" is given knowing that it cannot be carried out to the letter, but in the hope that it will act as a memory-jogger to influence people's behavior in the field. That's the didactic purpose of all doctrine, in my view -- not as a descriptive depiction of how operations will actually be carried out, but as a tool to encourage and shape organizational adaptation.

I would also make the comment that I don't believe "28 articles" is of as much use to insurgents as you think. I have had some field experience leading irregular non-state forces against a conventional army in a guerrilla fight, and my personal experience of doing this was that actually the nature of being an insurgent, and the nature of countering insurgency are so fundamentally different that knowledge of one set of techniques is little help in mastering the other. I learned and applied UW techniques on operations (my army calls it "Guerrilla Warfare" or GW rather than UW, which I personally find a better descriptor) before learning COIN in subsequent ops and during my PhD, and while some skills were applicable to both I found the two disciplines to be complementary in some ways but radically different in others. Most of my brethren with similar experience seem to have found the same.

I do agree (and have written in a couple of places) that there's a fundamental difference between doing COIN in your own country and doing COIN in someone else's -- hence Northern Ireland, Malaya, and several other "classical" COIN examples have extremely limited utility in places like Iraq and Afghanistan (where the insurgency is only a limited part of the problem anyway).

Finally (and you'll note I'm cc'ing my friends John Nagl and TX Hammes on this), I'd be very happy to meet in person to discuss this, or engage in a discussion online, on one condition -- you know who I am, my background, my views in detail; I don't even know your name. I don't "do" pseudonyms, I'm afraid.

If you want to have a discussion in print, we need to either meet or exchange enough personal detail to establish legitimate bona fides. There is too much urgent practical work to be done for us to engage in empty disputation, so I'm not prepared to get into a theoretical discussion without some prospect of a positive practical result for the guys on the ground. My personal preference would be for a private, in-confidence, face to face discussion rather than a public debate -- which has the potential to de-stabilize some of the very people we are trying to help.

Anyhow, no pressure -- think it over and let me know what you decide. And thanks for your contribution: there is nothing better than a spirited discussion with someone intelligent and well-informed who also violently disagrees with you; it's a rare and precious thing when you find someone like that and I appreciate the dialectic.

best wishes

Dave Kilcullen
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